Patrick Svitek

What Greg Abbott’s decisive win over O’Rourke means for his third term in office

"What Greg Abbott’s decisive win over Beto O’Rourke portends for his third term in office" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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An unprecedented pandemic that shut down the state economy and killed thousands of Texans. A power-grid failure that left millions freezing in the dark. The deadliest school shooting in the state’s history. The end of a 50-year constitutional right to get an abortion. A restless right flank. And then Beto O’Rourke.

Gov. Greg Abbott is emerging from the most tumultuous two years of his governorship with a decisive reelection victory in hand. His election was among the brightest spots for Republicans nationwide on election night, as the party underperformed expectations of a “red wave.”

After defeating O’Rourke — Texas’ most promising Democrat in recent history — Abbott begins his third term in a strong position, with a rising national profile and a governing mandate in the eyes of fellow Republicans.

Still, Abbott faces high expectations for the next legislative session, unsettled pressures from inside his party and questions about his own political future. Not to mention he is still dealing with the ongoing — and politically fraught — responses to major events of the past couple of years, like the Uvalde massacre that left 19 school children dead.

“He clearly won by double digits,” said state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, referring to Abbott’s 11-point margin over O’Rourke. “I think the people of Texas have spoken and believe in his agenda, and so if you want to call that a mandate, I believe it is.”

Yet this is not the same Greg Abbott who won reelection with ease in 2018. The last two years saw Abbott’s once-impressive approval rating hit its lowest point ever and then recover partially, with the latest University of Texas polling showing a narrowly positive net rating.

It is against that backdrop that Abbott approaches his third term with perceived ambitions for a bigger spotlight. He has shown no signs of slowing down his at times unprecedented efforts to secure the border, and he continues to keep open the possibility he could run for president.

Democrats say the election should have been humbling for Abbott. While he won, they note he had to spend massively to defeat a challenger in O’Rourke, who argued Abbott had become too extreme.

"Governor Abbott's only mandate now is to govern with a steady, bipartisan hand and address issues that actually impact Texans’ everyday lives — not to sprint further down the rabbit hole of culture war extremism that the ever-shrinking far-right base wants him to,” the Texas Democratic Party’s executive director, Jamarr Brown, said in a statement.

Abbott’s campaign did not respond to a request for an interview or comment for this story.

The governor steered the state further to the right over the past two years than he has in his entire tenure. And as he faced controversy after controversy along the way, he made some risky bets — that the power grid would not fail again, for example. And while O’Rourke attacked Abbott as too extreme on abortion and guns — with polls showing voters agreed — Abbott remained intractable, refusing to consider any measures to restrict firearm access or rethink the state’s abortion ban.

Instead, he kept his messaging laser-focused on border security and the economy. Even O’Rourke’s aides admitted afterward that Abbott did a good job keeping the focus on issues that favored him.

Abbott’s campaign did not meet expectations on all fronts, however, with exit polling showing that he failed to achieve his goal of winning a majority with Hispanic voters statewide.

Campaign promises and the next session

Abbott made some specific promises in his campaign that set the stage for the next legislative session, which starts Jan. 10. Chief among them was setting aside at least half of the state’s $27 billion budget surplus for property tax relief, which Abbott pitched as the “largest property tax cut in the history of the state.”

He also emphasized giving parents more of a say in their kids’ education. Most notably, he declared that state funding should follow students regardless of what kind of school they attend, a statement that was a boon to supporters of school vouchers.

“He’s been very clear and very bold in what he expects or what he wants to see done, and I think voters responded to that, and so I think we are ... very hopeful that we see some movement on both of those items,” said Greg Sindelar, CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Austin-based conservative think tank.

Abbott is also poised to continue prioritizing border security in the next session. That could mean maintaining — or expanding — Operation Lone Star, the $4 billion program that at its height deployed nearly 10,000 Texas National Guard troops to the border or other parts of the state to curb migrant crossings. Abbott also initiated a state-funded border wall and grabbed national headlines by sending thousands of migrants by bus to cities run by Democrats.

While Abbott has taken unprecedented action on the border, he continues to elicit griping from some fellow Republicans that he is not doing enough. That was on full display this week, as Abbott reiterated the action he took this summer to treat the situation as an “invasion” under the U.S. Constitution and authorize state authorities to return apprehended migrants to the border. Just like when Abbott announced the move in July, some in his own party said this week it was insufficient because he was not letting state authorities send the migrants back across the border to Mexico.

Abbott did catch a break with Republican Kari Lake’s loss in the Arizona governor’s race. Lake had vowed to fortify the border more aggressively than Texas, and Abbott’s conservative critics, some of whom openly campaigned for Lake, were prepared to pit Abbott against her.

Abbott will also face intraparty pressure over the Texas GOP’s legislative priorities, which include some common ground but also some causes that Abbott has been more reluctant to embrace. Among them: banning “gender modification of children,” or medical treatments for transgender kids. That pressure has intensified on Abbott since Florida recently passed such a ban.

“After double-digit Republican victories in every statewide race, Gov. Abbott returns with a governing mandate,” Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi said in a statement, mentioning Abbott’s promises on property taxes and school choice. “Now Republicans need to deliver.”

Burrows, who chairs the agenda-setting House Calendars Committee, said he expects Republicans to be unified on the “big issues,” like property taxes and parental rights.

Unresolved issues

Abbott’s reelection race was animated by a host of calamitous events Texas has endured since early 2020. Just because he won does not mean the fallout from those events is over.

In Uvalde, questions persist about the widely panned law enforcement response to the May shooting, where police took more than an hour to take down the shooter. Throughout the campaign, Abbott leaned heavily on the fact that special committees were crafting legislative recommendations related to the shooting — recommendations that are expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Another question is the fate of Steve McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety whose agency has been among those faulted in the Uvalde shooting response. Abbott has not given any indication publicly that he has lost faith in McCraw, but the stalwart Abbott ally has faced calls for resignation in the Uvalde shooting aftermath. He has also been through an exhausting two years as the top agency head overseeing Abbott’s border-security initiatives.

The Democratic state senator who represents Uvalde, Roland Gutierrez, has repeatedly said Abbott should ask McCraw to step down. Abbott unsuccessfully sought to defeat Gutierrez in the Nov. 8 election, endorsing his opponent and tapping his own campaign funds to run attack ads against Gutierrez on TV. But Gutierrez won by a comfortable margin in his Democratic-leaning district, and he has vowed to keep up the pressure on Abbott and McCraw.

On the power grid, Abbott famously declared that everything that needed to be done to fix the grid was done in the 2021 regular legislative session. But one fellow state leader — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — has consistently signaled disagreement, including throughout his reelection campaign.

In TV ads and on the campaign trail, Patrick bragged about successfully pushing for the resignation of Abbott’s appointees who oversaw the grid. One of Patrick’s final TV ads promised that he would “continue to strengthen our grid.”

And the on abortion — arguably the No. 1 issue for Democrats in the election — some Republicans in the Legislature have expressed support for adding rape or incest exceptions to the state’s near-total ban. But Abbott has said only that he wants to revisit exceptions to save the life of the pregnant person, and Democrats are deeply skeptical Republicans meant what they said during their campaigns.

More broadly, Abbott will have to navigate an especially tense dynamic among the “Big Three” — the governor, lieutenant governor and state House speaker. Patrick’s loathing of Speaker Dade Phelan has become well-documented, and Patrick is entering the next session more emboldened than ever. The election produced his most loyal GOP caucus yet, and he said Tuesday he is prepared to hit the ground running with the “most conservative Senate ever.”


As all these issues brew, questions remain about Abbott’s political future. Will he run for president in 2024? Is this his last term?

Abbott has not ruled out a White House bid. However, his chief political strategist, Dave Carney, downplayed the prospect on a post-election call with reporters, noting Abbott has a “huge session” coming up in January.

“We’ve never discussed it,” Carney said of Abbott running for president. “We just focus on our knitting in Texas.”

Like many prospective 2024 candidates, Abbott’s decision could be influenced by former President Donald Trump, who announced his long-anticipated comeback campaign Tuesday. Abbott has been silent on Trump’s announcement.

Abbott campaigned on Trump’s endorsement in his primary but kept him at a distance in the general election, skipping a Trump rally in Texas on the weekend before early voting.

In a post-election podcast interview, Carney said Abbott’s campaign is already analyzing data to better position him for a 2026 reelection campaign. But he said that is “if the governor decides to run again.”

If Abbott seeks — and wins — a fourth term, it would set him up to be the longest-serving governor ever. His predecessor, Rick Perry, holds that record with his 14-year tenure.

Brown, the Texas Democratic Party executive director, noted Abbott barely registers in early 2024 polls for president and said he should focus on doing a better job in his current position.

“I’m not going to make any decisions for the governor,” said Burrows, the GOP state representative. “I certainly think he’s been a phenomenal governor and could do many great things for not only Texas but other places as well.”

Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Karl Rove says Texas’ abortion law is too extreme

"Karl Rove says Texas’ abortion law is too extreme" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Veteran GOP strategist Karl Rove said Saturday that Texas’ abortion law is too extreme, underscoring an increasingly public discomfort with the measure among Republicans.

Rove made the comment during an exchange at a Texas Tribune Festival panel about elections following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. He said voters in Kansas had defeated an “extremist measure on abortion,” defining extreme as “essentially no abortion, no exceptions.”

“Do you think Texas is too extremist?” Tribune CEO Evan Smith asked.

“Yeah, I do,” Rove replied. “I think it’s gonna create a real problem for Republicans in the Legislature next year when they have to deal with it.”

Texas lawmakers passed a “trigger law” last year that automatically went into effect soon after the Roe decision and banned abortion without exceptions for rape or incest. Polls show very few voters support the lack of exceptions, and the law has complicated an election cycle that has been trending in Republicans’ favor on other issues.

Rove is not the only prominent Republican voice to express misgivings with Texas’ abortion ban. The speaker of the Texas House, Dade Phelan, said Friday at the Tribune Festival that his chamber might revisit the law, saying he has heard from members who are also concerned about the lack of exceptions for rape or incest. Also speaking Friday at the Festival, state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said he would support a rape exception.

However, Rove noted that he supports the court’s ruling and that decisions on abortions should be left to elected officials.

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The new MAGA: Mothers Against Greg Abbott seek to unseat Texas governor

Mothers Against Greg Abbott has grown into a potent political force in the governor’s race, with a membership of over 50,000 on Facebook. The group recently caught more attention after releasing ads that have gone viral on social media.

Editor’s note: This story contains explicit language.

A little over a year ago, Nancy Thompson, an Austin mother of three kids, stood alone for two and half hours in front of the Texas Capitol with a sign that said “Mothers Against Greg Abbott.”

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She was most upset about the governor’s ban on mask mandates, worried about her son who was medically vulnerable to COVID-19 after being hospitalized for another virus that had “infected all his organs,” she said.

“Honestly, I just didn’t give a shit anymore,” Thompson said. “I was just done. I was so done.”

Now, her protests are not so lonely. Her “Mothers Against Greg Abbott” effort has grown into a potent political force in the governor’s race, with a membership of over 50,000 on Facebook. The group has recently caught more attention after releasing professionally made ads that have gone viral on social media.

They have earned the backing of Abbott’s Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, who told the group Monday their work is “the talk of the town” no matter where he is.

“It’s absolutely transforming what’s possible in Texas right now, and there’s literally not a day that goes by that Amy or I or someone on our team do not get asked, ‘Have you seen that great Mothers Against Greg Abbott ad?’” O’Rourke said, addressing the group virtually along with his wife, Amy.

O’Rourke has long had an advantage with women in his uphill battle against Abbott, leading the governor by 6 percentage points among likely female voters in the latest public survey. But Thompson is working to rally a more specific group: mothers like herself, a onetime Republican who did not get deeply involved in politics until recent years. The group has naturally drawn many Democrats, but Thompson wants it to be as inclusive as possible, and its website calls it “a mix of Democrats, Moderate Republicans and Independents who are ready to work together for change for Texas.”

“We’re just trying to organize the army and make it super accessible to everyday Texans like me, who may not be super involved in politics — until you’re super involved in politics,” Thompson said.

Now Thompson is trying to take the group to the next level for the final three months of the race, organizing chapters throughout the state and endeavoring to put ads on TV. On Monday, it announced it had put up five billboards across the state criticizing Abbott over his response to the Uvalde school shooting.

Abbott’s campaign declined to comment on the group.

Campaign finance records show the group raised $170,000 through June 30, garnering over 2,400 mostly small donations. Thompson said the group has raised at least $200,000 more since then, as its ads blew up online in July. That is a notable amount for such an upstart group, though it still pales in comparison to the eight-figure campaign accounts that both Abbott and O’Rourke have to spread their messages.

While the group has been in existence since last year, it has garnered the most attention yet for the ads it has released this summer. One of them, titled “Whose Choice,” depicts a fictitious scence in which a doctor is counseling a woman about a pregnancy she may need to terminate due to a “catastrophic brain abnormality.” The doctor tells her there is “only one person who can make this choice” — before abruptly picking up a phone and calling Abbott. The ad has gotten over 7 million views on Twitter since it was posted July 25.

O’Rourke called the ads “amazingly effective” Monday.

Thompson is a mother of three from Austin whose professional career has mostly been in marketing. She said she considered herself a Republican — serving as a delegate to the 1988 national convention, for example — until President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. She began to vote Democratic going forward but did not get more actively involved in politics until more recently.

It was not until after Thompson made her initial protest sign last year that she realized it had carried the same acronym as former President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan: Make America Great Again. But she laughed it off to herself and stuck with it.

Someone took a picture of Thompson’s protest that day, and it started spreading on social media. Noticing how many people seemed to relate, Thompson created a private Facebook group a few days later using the same name, and by December, it had over 20,000 members.

Thompson noticed membership spiked around major news events involving Abbott, like when the state’s six-week abortion ban went into effect in September. Another jump in membership came in February, when Abbott ordered state agencies to investigate gender-affirming care for transgender kids as child abuse.

“It just seemed like every single time Greg Abbott opened up his mouth, we gained thousands of followers every single time,” Thompson said. “He just spent the last year making enemies of so many Texans.”

The next year, as the group continued to swell and Thompson was looking for volunteers, she met the filmmaker Michelle Mower. Mower offered to help — and to connect Thompson with fellow filmmakers — and before long, they were all holding weekly meetings.

The group’s first ad, “Breaking Bread,” came out April 15, and it depicted three pairs of women who had been driven apart by politics agreeing to reconcile and hash out their differences. Everyone donated their time for the ad, which cost only $600, covering meals and equipment rentals, Thompson said. It would largely remain that way going forward.

Nancy Thompson, founder of Mothers Against Greg Abbott, poses for a portrait at the Texas Capitol on August 4, 2022.

Mothers Against Greg Abbott founder Nancy Thompson in front of the Governor’s Mansion on Aug. 4. Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune

Thompson continued to work with Mower and Chelsea Aldrich, an actress and writer. But she also realized she had a valuable resource next door — literally — in her neighbors, David Wolfson and Lauren Sheppard, co-founders of Spoon Films. The company had worked for a political action committee in 2018 that opposed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz when O’Rourke was challenging him — Fuck Ted Cruz PAC — and had leftover footage they were willing to share. Spoon Films ultimately produced ads for Mothers Against Greg Abbott featuring Cecile Richards, O’Rourke’s national finance chair and the daughter of former Gov. Ann Richards.

Along the way, Thompson also met fellow likeminded mothers like Cheryl Richard, a retired oil and gas executive from Austin. Richard said she first started talking to Thompson last year when Richard was thinking about challenging Abbott herself.

Richard ultimately provided $3,000 in seed funding to help make an ad called “Nothing Changes,” in which several mothers speak to the camera about overcoming political apathy in Texas. Richard also lent her horse, Ivan, who has a cameo in the ad.

Richard, 66, has twin sons and five grandchildren, with another on the way. Four of her grandchildren are girls. She said she identified as Republican her whole life until “around 2016,” when Trump was elected president and she realized how much the GOP had drifted away from her on some issues. She supports abortion rights and “reasonable” gun control, she said, like raising the age to buy an assault rifle to 21.

“I don’t feel like I left the Republican Party as much as it left me,” Richard said. “I’ve always been a moderate. I’m still a moderate. … And I think there are a lot of moderates out there, particularly women, who feel left behind and for the same reasons I felt left behind.”

Richard acknowledged that beating Abbott is “not just about putting out ads.” The “much tougher” mission, she said, is turning out more voters.

After all, the ads produced by the anti-Cruz PAC garnered plenty of clicks and media coverage, but O’Rourke still lost to Cruz by 3 percentage points.

Thompson appears aware of the challenge. She is working to expand the group’s advertising, filming more ads for the web, hoping to eventually air them on TV, and putting up the billboards, which spotlight Abbott’s statement after theUvalde shooting that it “could’ve been worse.” But she is also helping establish MAGA chapters across the state, including places as far-flung as Alpine in far West Texas and Palestine in East Texas.

The group has grown so much that she recently had to bring on two part-time employees, an accountant and a fundraiser.

While O’Rourke addressed the group for the first time Monday, Thompson has made sure to operate it independently of his campaign, mindful of campaign finance regulations. In fact, Thompson said, it was not until the last week of July that O’Rourke started following her on Twitter.

Disclosure: Facebook has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Trump-backed Republican Texas House candidate in Collin County charged with impersonating public servant

June 24, 2022

"Republican Texas House candidate in Collin County charged with impersonating public servant" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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A Texas House candidate and police officer backed by former President Donald Trump and top Texas Republicans has been indicted on a charge of impersonating a public servant, according to authorities.

Dallas police said Friday that Frederick Frazier was placed on administrative leave after the department was notified that a Collin County grand jury indicted him. Impersonating a public servant is a third-degree felony.

Frazier turned himself in to the Richardson jail Friday and posted bond, said Teddy Yoshida, a spokesperson for the Richardson Police Department.

It is unclear what the specific allegations against Frazier are, and a spokesperson for the Collin County district attorney’s office was not immediately available for comment.

Responding to the indictment, Frazier’s campaign blamed his Republican primary runoff opponent, Paul Chabot, who had suggested Frazier posed as a city code compliance officer to get Chabot’s campaign signs taken down at a Walmart. In a statement, Frazier’s campaign said Chabot, who has run for office multiple times before, is “trying to overturn the results of that election by bringing up trumped complaints to law enforcement and testifying before a grand jury.”

“Frederick Frazier is looking forward to having the opportunity to defend himself in court, where we are confident jurors will see through Chabot’s lies in the same way that voters have five times before,” the statement said.

John Thomas, Chabot’s consultant, issued a statement on Frazier’s indictment:

“An independent grand jury was empaneled and determined that Mr. Frazier committed multiple felonies. In fact, it was the Rangers and the McKinney PD who uncovered the felonies. Frazier’s lying and deceit knows no limits. He committed crimes and refuses to fess up. He is a disgrace to himself and to those who dawn a badge in law enforcement. Paul Chabot demands Frazier have one shred of decency and immediately drop out of the race as it’s crucial that both a Republican and candidate with integrity represent the people of the 61st district.”

Frazier easily won the Republican primary runoff last month for House District 61, an open seat in Collin County that leans Republican. A well-known advocate for law enforcement in Austin, Frazier had the backing of Trump, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state House Speaker Dade Phelan. The Democratic nominee in the race is Sheena King.

During the runoff, Chabot spoke out about the alleged theft of dozens of his campaign signs. In one incident, Chabot said a Walmart store manager told him someone claiming to work for city code compliance came in and told the store to take down Chabot’s signs because they were illegally placed. Chabot said he reported that to the police.

The Texas Rangers ultimately looked into his claims. Chabot later obtained a report from the Rangers through a public records request that said the agency investigated Frazier in February for “alleged criminal violations … of Impersonating a Public Servant and potentially related Theft.”

At the time, Frazier’s campaign consultant, Craig Murphy, said his candidate denied any wrongdoing and called Chabot’s claims “frivolous.”

Texas Scorecard and Steven Monacelli, a freelance journalist who extensively covered the campaign sign controversy for Rolling Stone, were among the first to report Friday that Frazier had been indicted.

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Gov. Greg Abbott claims he was misled about poor police response to Uvalde shooting

May 27, 2022

"Gov. Greg Abbott says he was misled about poor police response to Uvalde shooting" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday he was “misled” about what happened in the Uvalde school massacre, causing him to initially share inaccurate information with the public.

“I am livid about what happened,” Abbott said during a news conference in Uvalde, the site of the shooting where a gunman killed 19 students and two adults Tuesday. “The information I was given turned out, in part, to be inaccurate, and I am absolutely livid about that.”

[“The wrong decision”: Texas DPS says local police made crucial error as school shooting continued]

In his first news conference after the shooting, Abbott had praised how police handled the shooting, applauding their "amazing courage."

“It could have been worse. The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do,” he said Wednesday.

But it came out earlier Friday that police had made a crucial error, waiting to enter a classroom because they believed it was no longer an active-shooter situation. Steve McCraw, the directer of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said it was the “wrong decision, period.”

Abbott said Friday his initial remarks on the law enforcement response to the shooting were a “recitation” of what he had just been told in a briefing.

Going forward, Abbott said he expected law enforcement leaders to "get to the bottom of every fact with absolute certainty." He said the Texas Rangers and FBI would be investigating the law enforcement response.

In addition to the police's slow response time to the classroom, authorities had initially said a school resource officer "engaged" the gunman outside. But McCraw also corrected that account earlier Friday, saying the school resource officer was not on campus when the shooter arrived and missed him when he rushed back to school in response to a 911 call. McCraw said he did not know why the school officer was not on site at the time of the shooting.

Abbott's Friday appearance in Uvalde came as he skipped the National Rifle Association convention in Houston, where he instead deliver pre-recorded remarks that were shown to the audience minutes before his news conference began. In the video address, Abbott continued to make clear he does not view gun restrictions as the answer to the massacre.

"There are thousands of laws on the books across the country that [limit firearms] that have not stopped madmen from carrying out evil acts on innocent people and peaceful communities," Abbott said.

He added that the shooter committed a felony "before he even pulled the trigger" by possessing a gun on school premises. Then he committed capital murder by killing 21 people, Abbott said.

At the Uvalde news conference, Abbott continued to resist policy proposals that center on firearms and was noncommittal about the prospect of a special legislative session on gun violence. Roland Gutierrez, the Democratic state senator who represents Uvalde, interrupted the news conference to advocate for a special session, emotionally pleading with Abbott.

"I'm asking you now to bring us back in three weeks," Gutierrez said. "We have to do something, man."

"Just call us back," Gutierrez repeated as he walked away.

Of a potential special session, Abbott said, "all options are on the table." He has provided a similar response in the past when pressed for special sessions on various issues.

Erin Douglas contributed reporting.

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TX rancher bankrolls dark-horse challenger for Railroad Commission: 'I’m tired of fake conservatives trampling on private property rights'

"West Texas rancher pours $2 million into Sarah Stogner’s underdog campaign for statewide oil and gas board seat" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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A West Texas rancher who has battled the Railroad Commission over abandoned oil wells on her property has poured $2 million into a dark-horse challenger for a seat on the commission, Sarah Stogner, as she looks to pull off a major upset in the May 24 Republican primary runoff.

It is another striking twist in a race that Stogner, an oil and gas attorney, previously shook up in the primary when she released a campaign ad of herself riding a pumpjack nearly naked.

Ashley Watt, who owns a 75,000-acre ranch in the Permian Basin where Stogner currently lives, revealed to The Texas Tribune that she has provided the seven-figure funding to Stogner, saying it will be disclosed on a campaign finance report that is expected to be released Tuesday. The money is helping bankroll a substantial TV ad buy in the final two weeks before Stogner faces the commission’s chair, Wayne Christian, in the runoff.

[In Railroad Commission runoff, GOP candidates court North Texas voters — who want them to change agency’s confusing name]

“I am not a political person. I don't really care about politics,” Watt said in a statement. “But when an old Chevron oil well blew out radioactive brine water into my drinking water aquifer, ruining my ranch and forcing me to sell my entire cattle herd, the Railroad Commission teamed up with Chevron to work against me.

“I’m tired of fake conservatives like Wayne Christian trampling on Texans’ private property rights, while lining their pockets with poorly disguised bribes,” Watt added.

Stogner and Watt are friends. Stogner said they connected last year on Twitter and then Watt hired her as a lawyer. Stogner has been living on Watt’s ranch in Crane County after going through a marital separation.

Stogner said Watt approached her in recent weeks and said she had done some polling — unbeknownst to Stogner — that showed she had a shot in the runoff. It was a dilemma for Stogner, who had been self-funding her campaign and proudly swearing off donations. But she said Watt eventually convinced her to “get your ego out of the way” and accept the money to have a good chance to win.

“We’re gonna go hard and try to win it,” Stogner said, adding that she is “still self-funding” outside of Watt’s help and “still not taking money from the industry I’m going to regulate.”

Christian is up for a second term on the commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas. He narrowly failed to win the primary outright in March, getting 47% of the vote to 15% for Stogner. A political unknown, she had captured wide attention in the weeks before the primary with her racy video — but she also campaigned on her oilfield experience and criticized Christian as too cozy with the industry.

Christian’s campaign did not return messages seeking comment on Stogner’s sudden TV spending, but he has stepped up his attacks on Stogner with the runoff looming, calling her a Democrat trying to fool GOP voters. He has pointed out she gave $25 to Democratic Beto O’Rourke in his 2018 race against Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and voted for the Democratic nominee in the last election for Railroad Commission. She has said she bought a T-shirt from O’Rourke’s campaign “as a joke” and also that she is “not a straight-ticket voter.”

In any case, Watt’s donation is significant. By comparison, the biggest checks that Gov. Greg Abbott — a fundraising powerhouse — tends to receive are $1 million each.

Stogner filed only one campaign finance report before the primary, and it showed $0 in contributions, spending and cash on hand through Dec. 31. Christian’s reports show he raised $445,000 from July last year through Feb. 19, days before the primary, and had $432,000 cash on hand at that point.

Watt’s money has allowed Stogner to blanket the state with TV ads pitching her candidacy, talking about her experience fighting “the liberal anti-oil politicians — and the woke corporations bankrolling them.” The 30-second spot concludes by billing her as a “tough conservative mama.”

Watt’s story has been well-documented. Her ranch has seen multiple abandoned wells, filled with cement long ago, start to spew dangerous chemicals, imperiling the groundwater beneath the ranch — and the cattle that rely on it. Chevron owns at least some of the wells, and it has worked to plug the leaks.

But Stogner has argued Chevron has not done enough to remedy the situation and the Railroad Commission, which is notoriously close to the industry, is not holding the company accountable by enforcing existing laws.

“Don’t let a California oil company permanently ruin the best part of Texas on your watch,” Watt told the commission in January. “Make them play by the same rules as anyone else and clean up their mess. Do your job.”

Christian thanked Watt at the time for testifying and said he has “concern about that.”

“If that is correct, there’s a problem that we as commissioners have a responsibility to the public and the law” to address, he said.

Watt said that is "pure lip service."

"He hasn't done a Goddamn thing," she said.

Watt has not been much of a political donor until this election cycle. She donated to two of Christian’s Republican primary challengers who did not advance, Thomas Slocum ($15,000) and Dwayne Tipton ($2,000). Records with the Texas Ethics Commission also show she gave $10,000 to Casey Gray, who unsuccessfully challenged state Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, in the March primary.

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National GOP proxy war breaks out in crowded primary to succeed retiring Texas Republican

The race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, has boiled over into a tense proxy war, with some of the best-known Republicans in Texas — and the country — split between two of the leading candidates.

The March 1 primary features 11 contenders, but the battle between the GOP factions has centered on Morgan Luttrell and Christian Collins.

Luttrell is a former Navy SEAL backed by former Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Houston and the top super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership. Collins, meanwhile, is a young political operative who has the support of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the campaign arm of the House Freedom Caucus, and some of the most ardent pro-Trump Republicans in the House, like U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who was permanently banned from Twitter last month for spreading COVID-19 misinformation.

There are few notable policy differences between Luttrell and Collins — they both fervently want to secure the border, restrict abortion and protect gun rights. But at least one of them sees the race as having implications for the future of the GOP, pitching himself as more of a pro-Trump warrior who will battle leadership.

“[Luttrell] is lining up with the establishment in Washington, and I’m lining up with those who are the tip of the spear,” Collins said in an interview, calling himself the “true pro-Trump conservative” in the primary. However, he acknowledged it is a “very divided community right now.”

Indeed, the race is not as clear-cut. While House GOP leadership is pulling for Luttrell, he also has Trump loyalists in his corner, like U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson of Amarillo, and has the endorsement of the leader of the Texas House Freedom Caucus, state Rep. Mayes Middleton of Wallisville.

Luttrell has so far run a campaign less driven by contrast, trying to keep the focus on his background as a military hero who came home and did right by his community. But at a forum Wednesday night, Luttrell fired back at Collins’ criticism of his support that is linked to House GOP leadership.

“I got those PAC donations because I’m a better candidate, plain and simple,” Luttrell said, adding that he is “not the candidate who got … almost a million dollars by one person” — a reference to a pro-Collins super PAC donor. “I’m supported by all these people across the country, in this state and by those PACs because no one can hold a candle to my resume, my experience and my fortitude. Period.”

Collins has pledged to join the congressional Freedom Caucus if elected, while Luttrell has not made the same commitment, saying he first wants to get to Washington and survey the landscape. That has helped drive the wedge for Collins and his allies — including Cruz, who recently spent a day in the district campaigning with Collins and assuring voters he has the “guts” to stand up to House leadership.

Luttrell was unavailable for an interview for this story.

The race was triggered by Brady’s announcement in April that he would not seek reelection after a long tenure during which he ascended to the top of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. His 8th Congressional District, which spreads from the northern Houston suburbs into more rural territory, has been safely Republican and stayed that way through redistricting, meaning the primary will effectively decide his successor.

Brady — who carved a path as both friendly to Trump and loyal to House leadership in recent years — is staying out of the race.

Luttrell has been a candidate for months longer than Collins has, and he has emerged as a formidable fundraiser, raking in $1.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2021. But as the March 1 primary nears, Republicans are watching to see if the two will head to a runoff — where the intraparty feuding will likely only intensify.

Controversial allies

While trailing Luttrell in campaign fundraising, Collins has been boosted by a trio of super PACs that have spent over $800,000 on his behalf. At least two have them appear to have been overwhelmingly funded by Robert Marling, a Woodlands banker and friend of Cruz. The outside groups have heavily spent in support of Collins, though one of them, Texans for Freedom, has also disclosed anti-Luttrell expenditures.

That group has at least one billboard up in the district attacking Luttrell over his support from Crenshaw, who has emerged as something of a lightning rod in the race.

The rising-star Republican, who is also a fellow former Navy SEAL, has backed Luttrell since the first days of his campaign. But his involvement in the primary took on a new light in early December after he made national headlines for invoking the House Freedom Caucus while warning about “grifters” and “performance artists” inside the GOP — at an event alongside Luttrell, to boot. Crenshaw later denied he was singling out the Freedom Caucus with the comment, but it caused an intraparty furor and made Collins’ allyship with the Freedom Caucus more relevant.

Collins has done political work for Crenshaw previously, but he said he now shares the view of prominent Houston radio host Michael Berry, who recently said he no longer supports Crenshaw and is “embarrassed I helped him win.”

“Christian Collins used to work for me,” Crenshaw said in a statement. “He’s a nice kid but his professional career has only been on campaigns. His opinions change with the political winds. For instance he wrote a master’s thesis advocating for amnesty for illegal immigrants, and tried to have the paper withdrawn once he realized it was bad politics.”

That is a reference to Collins’ Liberty University thesis, which was published in 2013 and posited that Republicans could be more compassionate on immigration to win over Hispanic voters. It was written in the shadow of the 2012 presidential election, when the GOP grappled with whether its nominee, Mitt Romney, had been too hardlined on the issue. The university site where Collins’ paper was once available says it “has been withdrawn.”

Asked for comment on Crenshaw’s criticism, Collins pointed to an interview he gave Breitbart last month distancing himself from the paper, emphasizing it was written “almost 10 years ago” and saying he has since “spent my entire adult life fighting for conservative principles, most importantly border security.” He is now running on a hardline immigration platform, including opposition to a path to citizenship and support for decreasing overall immigration.

Collins and his allies are also targeting Luttrell’s loose affiliation with U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a leading anti-Trump Republican who is on a mission to purge his party of the former president’s influence. Luttrell’s campaign reported receiving a $5,000 donation — the maximum amount — from a Kinzinger political action committee in August.

At a January forum, Luttrell professed ignorance, saying he does not involve himself in his campaign’s fundraising and “didn’t know the check was cashed.” He said his campaign returned the check when they realized who it was from, while adding that he served in the military with Kinzinger and does not hold “any ill will” toward him.

“I don’t believe in anything Adam’s doing right now,” Lutrrell said. “I don’t back his politics at all. But I don’t hate that man. I’m a practicing Christian, and he and I served together.”

However, there are conflicting reports around how they got the donation in the first place. The Hill reported in December that Luttrell had asked Kinzinger for a donation, and a Kinzinger spokesperson, Maura Gillespie, confirmed to The Texas Tribune that the congressman made a contribution “because it was solicited.”

“I don’t know what Morgan knows or doesn’t know,” Collins said, “but the bottom line is Adam Kinzinger, to Republicans, is a traitor.”

Collins’ political ambition has long been apparent. He worked on Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, serving as an aide to Cruz’s father and campaign surrogate, Rafael Cruz. Collins went on to work as campaign manager and adviser to Brady. And in 2020, he started the Texas Youth Summit, an annual gathering for young conservatives in suburban Houston where Cruz, Crenshaw and other members of Congress have spoken.

Luttrell does not have nearly as much of a political resume. He retired from the Navy in 2014, and when Perry became Trump’s emergency secretary a few years later, Luttrell went to work for him as a special adviser. Luttrell got an executive certificate in professional leadership development from Harvard Business School, and he currently serves as an adjunct professor at Sam Houston State University, teaching law enforcement leadership, while running a small business.

Courting Trump

One major Republican voice has not weighed in on the primary yet: Trump. Both Collins and Luttrell are lobbying for his support.

Collins in particular is working to prove his pro-Trump bona fides, not only highlighting the donation by Kinzinger — whom Trump loathes — but also aligning himself with those who echo Trump’s conspiratorial obsession with the 2020 election results. On Wednesday, Collins got the support of Wendy Rogers, a far-right Arizona state senator who has led the charge to undermine Trump’s reelection loss there.

Trump raised speculation that he could get involved by staging a rally Saturday in Conroe, one of the biggest cities in the district, but he did not address the race there. Both Collins and Luttrell attended, and Perry showed up in a Luttrell campaign sweatshirt.

The race is personal for the former Texas governor. He is especially close to the Luttrell brothers and has a father-son-like relationship with Marcus Luttrell, who the Perrys took in after he showed up unannounced at their residence in 2007.

Luttrell also has a critical Trump ally on his side in Patrick, the lieutenant governor, who the former president has openly touted as the top broker for his Texas endorsements. Patrick, the presiding officer of the state Senate, endorsed Luttrell relatively early, acknowledging he does not normally issue endorsements outside Senate races “unless it’s something very special to me.”

For now, though, Trump’s plans for the primary remain a public mystery. In the lead-up to Saturday’s rally, a Trump spokesperson declined to say whether Trump would choose a candidate for the 8th Congressional District.

“Not a two-man race”

Nine other Republicans are on the ballot, and they have been vocal about their displeasure with the spotlight that has followed Collins and Luttrell.

“This is not a two-man race,” another candidate, Dan McKaughan, said at the January forum, suggesting that the “D.C. and Austin establishments … want to continue the status quo” with their preferred contenders in the primary.

Luttrell is not the only veteran running. McKaughan is a retired Navy lieutenant commander, while another candidate, Jonathan Hullihan, was a Navy judge advocate general. Hullihan has the backing of U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, a member of the Freedom Caucus.

But in addition to their endorsements, Collins and Luttrell have led the way in financial support — and especially Luttrell. He has raised almost $2 million since announcing in June, and his $1.2 million haul in the fourth quarter made him one of the top congressional fundraisers anywhere in Texas. Collins, who entered the race in early October, raised $334,000 through December.

Luttrell ended 2021 with a large cash-on-hand advantage — $1.6 million to $288,000 for Collins.

Disclosure: Sam Houston State University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Texas Republicans pressure court to reverse decision blocking attorney general from prosecuting election cases

Jan. 26, 2022

"Texas Republicans pressure court to reverse decision blocking attorney general from prosecuting election cases" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Texas' highest criminal court is facing intense pressure from fellow Republican elected officials to revisit a recent ruling that gutted the attorney general's ability to unilaterally prosecute election cases.

In recent days, the state's top GOP leaders — including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — have weighed in on the matter and sided with those imploring the Court of Criminal Appeals to reconsider the decision. The all-GOP court issued an 8-1 opinion last month that struck down the attorney general's power to go after election cases without the permission of local prosecutors, saying it violates the separation-of-powers clause in the Texas Constitution.

Attorney General Ken Paxton has been vocal in his criticism of the decision and has filed a motion for rehearing. And in recent interviews with conservative media, he has called on supporters to pressure the court to reverse the ruling.

"Call them out by name," Paxton said in an interview on the show of Mike Lindell, the My Pillow CEO and prominent Donald Trump supporter. "I mean, you can look them up. There's eight of them that voted the wrong way. Call them, send mail, send email."

Comments like those from Paxton were cited in a Wednesday story by the Austin American-Statesman that raised ethical issues about the pressure campaign. The newspaper said such comments put "Paxton in an ethical gray area, if not in outright violation of the state's rules of conduct for lawyers."

The Court of Criminal Appeals has yet to address the GOP pleas for reconsideration — and it may never do so.

Randall Kelso, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said courts like the Court of Criminal Appeals tend to be reluctant to reverse to their decisions unless at least one of three conditions are met: There is a change in the facts at the core of the case, the ruling proves to be "unworkable in practice" or judges are persuaded that the decision was "substantially wrong." Kelso said he did not see how the first two conditions apply to the current situation, and as for proving that the ruling was "substantially wrong," he added, there is usually a "pretty high burden."

"Just because the various Texas lawmakers are petitioning, I wouldn't predict they'd just cave to them and say, 'We've gotta change our minds,'" Kelso said. "It'd be unusual to do it unless" any of those conditions are met.

The controversy comes at a time when Texas Republicans are doing all they can to show they are committed to securing elections, even as there continues to be no evidence of widespread malfeasance. And it comes after legislators passed a hard-fought bill last year to tighten voting rules in Texas that expands the attorney general's purview over elections.

Abbott's office pointed to that law Tuesday as it indicated support for reinstating the authority that the court stripped.

"Texas’ highest law enforcement officer has constitutional authority to enforce that election-integrity law," Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement. "The Court of Criminal Appeals needs to uphold Texas law and the Attorney General’s responsibility to defend it."

Earlier Tuesday, Patrick and 14 state senators filed an amicus brief supporting the push to convince the court to reconsider the ruling.

"If the court's decision stands, certain rogue county and district attorneys will be allowed to turn a blind eye to election fraud, and they will have the final say on whether election fraud is prosecuted at all," Patrick said in a statement. "To me, this is completely unacceptable."

Dozens of other Republican state lawmakers, candidates and activists have weighed in, telling the court to grant the motion for rehearing. They even include one of Paxton's challengers in the March primary, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler.

At the same time, the little-known judges on the court are receiving a deluge of calls and emails. Houston conservative activist Steve Hotze has used his group, Conservative Republicans of Texas, to send out a robocall urging people to call the judges, telling them that if the ruling stands, "Democrats will steal the elections in November and turn Texas blue." The group sent out 228,000 calls statewide, according to a spokesperson for Hotze, Jared Woodfill.

The robocall was first reported by the Houston Chronicle.

The court's general counsel told the newspaper that one email was referred to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which is responsible for probing threats against state employees. The general counsel, Sian Schilhab, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The court is made up of a presiding judge and eight other judges who all serve six-year terms and appear on the ballot in staggered election years. Three of them are up for reelection in the March primary, and one of those three, Scott Walker, faces a challenger in Clint Morgan, a Harris County prosecutor. Morgan's endorsers include Hotze's Conservative Republicans of Texas.

Paxton is facing his own hotly contested primary, which includes Gohmert, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. During a recent campaign stop in Round Rock, Bush criticized Paxton over the ruling from the Court of Criminal Appeals, saying Texas needs an attorney general who can "confront county DAs that aren't doing their jobs."

"We've sadly seen Ken Paxton's last remaining authority in criminal law, which is voter fraud ... was stripped," Bush said, adding that the decision was "not by liberal activist judges" but by an all-Republican court. "[Paxton's office] has run amok because of the lack of accountability at the top of the chain of command."

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Ken Paxton still hasn’t disclosed donors who fueled most of his $2.8 million campaign haul

Jan. 25, 2022

"Ken Paxton still hasn’t disclosed donors who fueled most of his $2.8 million campaign haul" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton has not disclosed a large chunk of his campaign donors from the past six months, a week after he was required to report them to the Texas Ethics Commission.

Paxton, who is in a hotly contested Republican primary, had until Jan. 18 to submit his latest campaign finance report, which covers July 1 through Dec. 31, 2021. His campaign filed it a day late, citing technical issues, and left $2.1 million in donations unitemized out of the $2.8 million total that he raised. Campaigns are required to itemize — or provide donor names and other identifying information — for any donations they receive online or any that exceed $90.

Paxton’s campaign said on the report that it would file an amended report to fix the issue, but it had not done so as of Tuesday, according to the TEC website. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Paxton faces primary challenges from Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler. All are saying he does not have the integrity to be the state’s top law enforcement official due to his own legal problems, which include a securities fraud indictment and an FBI investigation into claims he abused his office to aid a wealthy donor. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

“Ken Paxton has a track record of not following the rules and missing standard deadlines with the Texas Ethics Commission that every other candidate has adhered to,” Guzman’s consultant, Justin Dudley, said in a statement. “Paxton continues to prove to the citizens of Texas he is unfit to be Attorney General.”

It is not unheard of for a candidate to file a TEC report late by a number of days or make a mistake in reporting contributions that needs to be corrected by an amended report. But it is unusual for a candidate, a week after a deadline, to still not have disclosed information for such a large portion of their donors.

While not all of the $2.1 million in donations may have required itemization, it is likely that many did. The period included a fundraiser with former President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida where admission started at $1,000 per person.

Paxton’s $2.8 million haul was less than that of Guzman, who raised $3.7 million over the six-month period. Bush took in $1.9 million, while Gohmert, who did not enter the race until November, collected $1 million. Paxton still easily led the field in cash on hand, with a $7.5 million balance.

Paxton is not the only statewide candidate who ran into trouble with disclosing donors on the latest report. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke filed an amended report Monday, saying it was corrected to “report itemized contributions that were previously reported as unitemized.”

O’Rourke’s amended report followed two TEC complaints over it that were filed by the campaign of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. One of them alleged that O’Rourke had failed to itemize at least $322,528.34 in online donations.

In a statement on the first complaint, Abbott spokesperson Mark Miner said it was “one more example on a long list of credibility issues plaguing [O’Rourke’s] campaign.”

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US Rep. Louie Gohmert joins Texas Republicans running against Attorney General Ken Paxton

Nov. 22, 2021

"U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert joins Texas Republicans running against Attorney General Ken Paxton" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, announced Monday he is running for attorney general, challenging fellow Republican Ken Paxton, in the already crowded primary.

"Texas I am officially running to be your next Attorney General and will enforce the rule of law," Gohmert tweeted after announcing his campaign on Newsmax.

Gohmert announced earlier this month that he would join the GOP lineup against Paxton if he could raise $1 million in 10 days. The 10th day was Friday. Gohmert said in an announcement video that he has “reached our initial goal of raising $1 million in order to start a run for” attorney general, though he did not confirm whether he was able to collect it in 10 days.

Gohmert is at least the fourth primary opponent that Paxton has drawn. The others have included Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and state Rep. Matt Krause of Fort Worth. At least three Democrats are also running for the job.

However, shortly after Gohmert's announcement Monday evening, Krause said he was leaving the primary to instead run for Tarrant County district attorney. Krause said he planned to support Gohmert for attorney general.

The race has attracted intense interest due to Paxton's legal problems, which include a 2015 securities fraud indictment that remains pending. Paxton has also come under FBI investigation over claims by former top staffers that he abused his office to help a wealthy donor. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases. Gohmert has latched on to those legal issues, warning they could cause Paxton to lose the general election.

In the announcement video, Gohmert called "election integrity" a priority of his campaign and criticized Paxton, saying he only "started working harder" after the allegations by his former lieutenants.

"If you allow me, I will not wait to be my busiest until after there's some bad press about illegal improprieties," Gohmert said. "I'll start boldly protecting your rights on Day 1."

Paxton's campaign had no comment on Gohmert's announcement.

Gohmert was originally scheduled to announce his decision Friday on Mark Davis' radio show in Dallas, but he never called in and the show went off air without hearing from him. He also kept the political world in suspense Monday, tweeting in the morning that he would release an announcement video "later today." It was not until after 7:30 p.m. that he announced his decision — and first on Newsmax, the conservative outlet, before releasing the video as promised.

Gohmert is one of the most far-right members of Congress and an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed Paxton for another term. After Trump lost reelection last year, Gohmert filed a long-shot lawsuit asking former Vice President Mike Pence to challenge Joe Biden’s legitimacy as president-elect. When a federal court dismissed the suit, he appeared to suggest violence in response, which he later denied.

Gohmert has downplayed the deadly riot that broke out at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building. Gohmert also has sought — unsuccessfully — to visit the defendants from the riot in jail.

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Beto O’Rourke says he’s running for Texas governor

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Nov. 15, 2021

"Beto O'Rourke says he's running for Texas governor" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Beto O'Rourke is running for governor, challenging Republican Greg Abbott in a clash of two of Texas' biggest politicians.

“I'm running to serve the people of Texas, and I want to make sure that we have a governor that serves everyone, helps to bring this state together to do the really big things before us and get past the small, divisive politics and policies of Greg Abbott," O'Rourke said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “It is time for change."

The former El Paso congressman, 2018 U.S. Senate nominee and 2020 presidential contender said he was running for governor to improve public schools, health care and jobs in Texas. But O'Rourke also took sharp aim at Abbott's record, citing new laws he backed this year that ban most abortions in Texas, tighten voting rules and allow permitless carry of handguns. He also criticized Abbott over the February power grid failure that left most of the state without electricity in subfreezing temperatures and his response to the coronavirus pandemic that has recently been focused on fighting vaccine and mask mandates.

In a video announcing his campaign Monday morning, O'Rourke focuses heavily on the grid failure, saying Texans were "abandoned by those who were elected to serve and look out for them." O'Rourke said in the interview that Abbott “has stopped listening to and trusting the people of Texas."

“He doesn't trust women to make their health care decisions, doesn't trust police chiefs when they tell him not to sign the permitless carry bill into law, he doesn't trust voters so he changes the rules of our elections, and he doesn't trust local communities," O'Rourke said, referring to Abbott's policies preventing local officials from making their own pandemic rules.

O'Rourke's decision to enter the race ends months of speculation and gives Democrats a formidable campaigner at the top of the ticket — someone who transformed Texas politics with his blockbuster campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. The clock has been ticking, with the candidate filing deadline for the March 2022 primary less than a month away.

Abbott's campaign reacted to O'Rourke's launch by yoking him to President Joe Biden, releasing an animated image of O'Rourke morphing into Biden.

"The last thing Texans need is President Biden's radical liberal agenda coming to Texas under the guise of Beto O'Rourke," Abbott campaign spokesperson Mark Miner said in a statement. "The contrast for the direction of Texas couldn't be clearer."

Abbott has already been campaigning against O'Rourke as too liberal for Texas, branding him “Wrong Way O'Rourke" and seizing on multiple positions he has taken since last running statewide. At the top of the list is O'Rourke's proposal to require buybacks of assault weapons during his presidential campaign. That led to a memorable moment on the debate stage in which O'Rourke proclaimed that, “Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47."

O'Rourke said he was not backing away from that proposal in his latest campaign.

“I think most Texans can agree — maybe all Texans can agree — that we should not see our friends, our family members, our neighbors, shot up with weapons that were originally designed for use on a battlefield," said O'Rourke, whose hometown of El Paso was the site of an anti-Latino mass shooting in 2019 by a gunman who killed 23 people.

The gubernatorial race marks O'Rourke's third campaign in as many election cycles — and it is unfolding in a much different context than his first statewide run three years ago. He is now well-known to Texas voters, and polls show more voters have a negative opinion of him than a positive one. The national environment is also working against him this time, with President Joe Biden, a fellow Democrat, deeply unpopular in Texas.

While Abbott's approval rating has sunk to its lowest levels since he first became governor in 2014, O'Rourke starts as an underdog. The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found O'Rourke trailing Abbott by 9 percentage points.

Asked how he was approaching this campaign compared to the 2018 one, O'Rourke said he would be taking his cues from Texans.

“A big lesson that I take from anything I've been a part of that's been successful is you gotta keep the focus on people," O'Rourke said. “And if this becomes about a single candidate or political party instead of the people of Texas, it's just not gonna work."

But O'Rourke is changing up at least a couple of tactics for the race.

This time he said he plans to run ads that draw a contrast with Abbott, something he did not do against Cruz until the final weeks of the race. O'Rourke also suggested he is open to using polling — which he eschewed in 2018 — to “make informed decisions about where we deploy resources," while insisting he would never use polling to tailor his message.

Unlike when O'Rourke ran for U.S. Senate and was subject to federal campaign finance laws, O'Rourke faces no contribution limits at the state level. He has long crusaded against the big money in politics, making his refusal to accept political action committee money a cornerstone of his campaigns. But he confirmed he would accept unlimited donations as allowed under state law, saying he did not want to “run this campaign with a hand tied behind our backs."

“Having said that, you will not see anything like what Greg Abbott has done in terms of coming very close to the line of open corruption," O'Rourke said, pointing to the $1 million donation that Abbott got from Dallas pipeline mogul Kelcy Warren in the months following the grid failure that his company profited from.

As for Biden, O'Rourke did not express any concerns when asked about the impact of the president's unpopularity on the gubernatorial contest. O'Rourke said he was grateful for things the president has gotten done that benefit Texas, like the latest portion of federal COVID-19 recovery funds and the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that Biden is set to sign into law Monday.

“I will partner with anyone, anywhere, anytime — regardless of political party or position of power they may hold — to make sure that we make progress here in Texas," O'Rourke said.

Miner, the Abbott spokesperson, made clear the governor's campaign will be putting Biden front and center in the race.

"From Beto O'Rourke's reckless calls to defund the police to his dangerous support of the Biden Administration's pro-open border policies, which have resulted in thousands of fentanyl deaths, Beto O'Rourke has demonstrated he has more in common with President Biden than he does with Texans," Miner said.

At least two other Democrats are running for governor. They include Michael Cooper, the president of the Beaumont NAACP who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, and Deirdre Gilbert, an educator from the Houston area.

Abbott is navigating his own spirited primary as he pursues a third term, facing at least three challengers from his right. They are former Dallas state Sen. Don Huffines, conservative commentator Chad Prather and former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West.

O'Rourke burst on to the statewide political scene in 2018 with his star-making challenge to Cruz. He toured all of Texas' 254 counties and smashed fundraising records, gained national attention and ultimately finished 3 percentage points behind Cruz.

Months later, O'Rourke jumped into the presidential contest, joining a crowded primary for the chance to take on then-President Donald Trump. His campaign struggled to break out of the back of the pack for most of his time running.

The El Paso shooting reinvigorated O'Rourke and brought a new urgency to his campaign, but it was not enough. He dropped out of the race weeks later as he was running low on money and grappling with potentially missing the cut for an upcoming debate.

O'Rourke wasted little time reengaging in state politics. He resisted encouragement to pivot to challenging U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and instead formed a political action committee, Powered by People, to help Texas Democrats in the 2020 election.

O'Rourke popped up in the presidential primary again that March, endorsing Biden at a Dallas rally on the eve of the state's nominating contest. Biden ended up winning the Texas primary as part of a sweep of the Super Tuesday states that propelled him on a path to the nomination.

For the rest of the 2020 election cycle, O'Rourke and his group focused mainly on Democrats' fight to capture the state House majority. They came up woefully short, failing to net a single seat.

O'Rourke was back in the public spotlight in February, amid the winter weather crisis that left millions of Texans without power and hundreds dead. He used his platform to fundraise for relief efforts and traveled the state volunteering for the recovery.

Over the summer, O'Rourke became a leading figure in Texas Democrats' push for federal voting rights legislation. While Democrats in the Texas House broke quorum over Abbott's priority elections bill and went to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress for help, O'Rourke crisscrossed Texas to build public pressure for federal legislation.

However, Democrats were not successful on either the state or federal levels. The state House Democrats eventually returned to Austin to allow Republicans to pass their restrictive elections legislation, while Congress still has not sent a voting rights bill to Biden's desk.

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Texas Democrats say House Republicans cheated to get quorum

"Texas House finally makes quorum, but Democrats say Republicans cheated to get there" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Texas House Republicans finally got their long-sought quorum Thursday — by the skin of their teeth.

There were 99 members registered as present Thursday evening, the exact number needed to end the 38-day Democratic quorum break over the GOP's priority elections bill. But it quickly became clear that some of the 99 members were not physically on the floor and instead marked present by their colleagues.

That means that the House could be operating with a tenuous quorum in the coming days, even if more Democrats start returning — though none were giving any indication of that Friday.

While some Democrats conceded Thursday night that the quorum bust was over, others were less willing to admit defeat.

“Based on numerous media reports, it seems evident there was not a true quorum present today — ironic, given this entire session is premised around Republicans preaching about so-called voter integrity," Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement.

A group of 34 House Democrats released a statement Friday that called it a “questionable quorum" and warned that Republicans “will lie about the number of legislators present at the Capitol to establish quorum, keep Texans in the dark, and bend the rules to get their way."

In a follow-up interview, Turner said the apparent lack of a real quorum was “of grave concern." He declined to speculate on whether the Democratic presence on the floor would grow when the House nexts meets on Monday.

Publicly, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beamont, is not showing any concern over the durability of the quorum going forward.

“Speaker Phelan appreciates the growing number of members who are fighting for their districts in the State Capitol," Phelan spokesperson Enrique Marquez said in a one-sentence statement for this story.

It is certainly possible that enough Democrats return to the floor in the near future that any uncertainty over the threshold is put to rest. The next opportunity for any returning Democrat to show up is when the House meets next at 4 p.m. Monday.

The first Democrat quorum bust happened in the final hours of the regular session in May, when members filed out of the chamber to block the final passage of a GOP voting bill. They upped the ante in July when more than 50 members boarded a plane and fled to Washington, D.C., for the duration of the first special session and continued to refuse to show up at the Capitol for the first few weeks of the second special session, which began Aug. 7.

The GOP elections bill would, among other things, outlaw local voting options intended to expand voting access and bolster access for partisan poll watchers. Democrats and voting rights advocates say it restricts voting rights in the state. Republicans, who control both chambers of the Legislature, say the proposal is intended to secure “election integrity."

One of the Democrats who is still in Washington, D.C., Rep. Ron Reynolds of Missouri City, said he anticipates that “maybe half" of the remaining Democrats will return to the floor in the coming days while he and others will remain in Washington to continue their fight for federal voting rights legislation.

“I'm very disappointed," Reynolds said. “We're disappointed that we had some members of the Democratic caucus return without a consensus, without a unified front."

Reynolds said he intends to stay in the nation's capital at least through next week, when the U.S. House is expected to vote on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. He is still deciding what to do after that.

If the quorum margin continues to remain on the razor's edge, Republicans cannot afford to have any absences and would have to continue showing up unanimously or close to it. They proved they were willing to go to those lengths Thursday with the attendance of Rep. Steve Allison of San Antonio, who recently tested positive for COVID-19 and registered as present while isolating in an adjacent room.

Allison tested negative Thursday and plans to be on the floor Monday and the following days that lawmakers are in session, according to his chief of staff, Rocky Gage.

The House can't do business without a quorum, which is two-thirds of the chamber, a threshold that stands at 100 when all 150 seats are filled. With two vacant seats pending special elections to replace former state Reps. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, who is now in Congress, and Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio, who resigned effective Thursday to work for San Antonio College, quorum threshold is currently 99.

The special election for Ellzey's seat is Aug. 31, though it could go to a runoff at a later date. And the special election for Pacheco's seat has not been scheduled yet.

The 99 members who effectively make up the current quorum include all 82 Republicans; 14 Democrats who, before Thursday, had never broken quorum or had already chosen to return to the floor; and three new Democratic defectors who announced their arrival shortly before quorum was met Thursday evening: Houston Reps. Armando Walle, Ana Hernandez and Garnet Coleman.

Without a mass return of the remaining Democrats, reaching a quorum in the coming days could still be a dicey proposition.

That is, of course, if House leaders actually count how many members are physically present — something they have no incentive to do as they seek to put the quorum break in the past. Any member present can request “strict enforcement" of a vote, which would force a more accurate attendance count, but that did not happen Thursday.

“Who is asking for strict enforcement?" one of the Democrats still breaking quorum, Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, tweeted shortly before the House met and quorum was established.

It is unclear what incentive the members who are showing up have to call for strict enforcement — they are mostly Republicans who are eager to get back to work and move past the quorum break. The same could arguably be said of the Democrats who have been present.

Reynolds said he is optimistic that as the Democratic numbers on the floor continue to grow, there will be more potential for strict enforcement.

“We were disappointed that didn't happen yesterday," Reynolds said. “But hopefully, as we go forward as a group, some of the returning members will agree to do that. I think there's already been a consensus of the members that are returning that are willing to do that."

Disclosure: San Antonio College has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Gov. Greg Abbott says he'll solicit individuals for donations to fund his plan for a border wall

"Gov. Greg Abbott says he'll solicit individuals for donations to fund his plan for a border wall" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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When Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week that Texas would build its own border wall, one of the immediate questions was who would pay for it.

Abbott has not fully detailed the plan yet, but he said in a podcast interview released Tuesday that the state will be soliciting donations from across the country to help fund the wall.

“When I do make the announcement later on this week, I will also be providing a link that you can click on and go to for everybody in the United States — really everybody in the entire world — who wants to help Texas build the border wall, there will be a place on there where they can contribute," Abbott said on the podcast, a show about Republican politics called “Ruthless."

Abbott made national headlines with his announcement Thursday in Del Rio that Texas would build its own wall at the Mexico border, though he provided no further details and said he would lay out the plan this week.

In the meantime, Abbott has faced threats of legal action and a bevy of questions about where, when and how such a wall could be constructed.

Abbott said in the podcast interview that the donations to Texas' border wall will go to a fund “overseen by the state of Texas in the governor's office." He promised “great transparency," saying “everyone will know every penny in, every penny out, but the sole purpose for those funds will be going to build the border wall."

Abbott's plan would not be the first attempt to crowdfund a border wall. There was We Build The Wall, a private fundraising effort that raised more than $25 million after originally planning to construct 3 miles of fence posts in South Texas. Last year, four people involved in We Build The Wall — including Steve Bannon, the former adviser to President Donald Trump — were charged with allegedly defrauding donors to the effort. Trump pardoned Bannon before leaving office in January.

A closer parallel to Abbott's plan may date to 2011, when the Arizona Legislature passed a law establishing a fund, complete with a fundraising website, to construct a fence along the state's border with Mexico. The fund received almost $270,000 by 2014, and a state border security advisory committee decided to give most of the sum to a county sheriff in 2015. The sheriff instead invested the money in border security technology such as GPS systems and binoculars, according to the Arizona Republic.

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Allen West resigns as chair of Texas Republican Party

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Texas GOP Chairman Allen West announced his resignation Friday morning, raising speculation he could run for statewide office.

West, who has been in charge of the party for shy of a year, will remain chair until a successor is picked on July 11, the party said.

“It has been my distinct honor to serve as Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. I pray Godspeed for this governing body," he said in a statement.

The party said that West “will take this opportunity to prayerfully reflect on a new chapter in his already distinguished career."

West has not ruled out challenging Gov. Greg Abbott, and he has also had tension recently with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

The state office for Land Commissioner is also an open seat this election season now that incumbent commissioner George P. Bush has announced he's running for attorney general.

A former Florida congressman who moved to Texas several years ago, West took over the party last summer, unseating incumbent James Dickey. He quickly made a name for himself for his willingness to speak out against fellow Republicans, including Abbott, whose coronavirus response he criticized.

West used the latest legislative session to push hard for the party's eight legislative priorities, and he has spent recent days lamenting the lack of progress that lawmakers have to show on them.

West is set to appear at a news conference at 10:30 a.m. in Whitehouse, near Tyler, to discuss the session.

Abbott has already drawn a primary challenge from former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas. In addition to West, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller could also take on Abbott. On Tuesday, Abbott was endorsed for reelection by former President Donald Trump.

Abbott is not the only statewide official with whom West has butted heads. Toward the end of the session, he put pressure on Patrick, the presiding officer, to pass a House-approved bill allowing permitless carry of handguns, questioning Patrick's commitment to the cause and alleging the Senate added "poison-pill amendments." Patrick eventually wrangled the votes, he got the bill through the Senate and it is now on its way to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk for his signature.

Without naming West, Patrick said in a statement at one point after the bill passed the Senate that those who claimed the Senate-amended bill was in peril "willfully misled many Second Amendment supporters in Texas."

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vows to defund state Legislature after voting restrictions bill fails

May 31, 2021

"Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vows to defund state Legislature after voting restrictions bill fails, threatening salaries" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday he would veto the section of the state budget that funds the Legislature hours after a Democratic walkout killed his priority elections bill.

“No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities," Abbott said in a tweet. “Stay tuned."

Late Sunday night, enough Democrats left the House to break a quorum and block passage of the elections bill, Senate Bill 7, before a midnight deadline. Calling the bill's failure “deeply disappointing," Abbott quickly made clear he would call a special session to get it passed, though he has not specified a timeline.

Abbott's tweet referred to Article X of the budget, which pays not only lawmakers and staff but also funds legislative agencies, such as the Legislative Budget Board. Under the current budget, the legislative branch is funded through the end of August, and the budget Abbott is referring to covers the fiscal year starting Sept. 1.

Abbott has until June 20 to carry out the veto.

State lawmakers are paid $600 a month, equal to $7,200 per year. They also get a per diem of $221 for every day they are in session, including both regular and special sessions.

Democratic legislators quickly criticized Abbott's veto announcement.

“This would eliminate the branch of government that represents the people and basically create a monarchy," state Rep. Donna Howard of Austin tweeted.

SB 7 was one of Abbott's emergency items, as was another proposal that died Sunday that would have made it harder for people arrested to bond out of jail without cash.

Abbott's tweet came minutes before the House adjourned sine die, finishing its regular session. In remarks from the dais, GOP Speaker Dade Phelan acknowledged lawmakers had unfinished business.

“We will be back — when, I don't know, but we will be back," Phelan told members. “There's a lot of work to be done, but I look forward to doing it with every single one of you."

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Leadership tensions, potential special session loom as Texas legislative session hits uncertain end

The 2021 Texas legislative session is heading into its final weekend fraught with uncertainty and tension between the two chambers that could lead to a special session.

After three of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's priorities effectively died Tuesday night in the House, the Senate presiding officer called for a special session to pass them, jolting the final several days of a session that was already on track to be the most conservative in recent memory. The last day of the session is Monday, and procedural deadlines have been increasingly cutting off opportunities to hash out key issues.

In some ways, it is a familiar story from past sessions: Tensions between the two chambers are peaking, and Patrick is putting pressure on Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session for unfinished business on conservative priorities. Patrick got his way in 2017, forcing a special session in an ultimately failed push to pass legislation to regulate bathroom use by transgender people.

Patrick specifically wants a June special session — prior to the special session that Abbott is widely expected to call this fall to address redistricting and COVID-19 relief funds. Abbott indicated Wednesday he was not immediately on board with Patrick's demand, and he put a finer point on his resistance Thursday afternoon during an unrelated news conference in Fort Worth.

"That's pretty goofy because everybody knows there's only one person with the authority to call a special session, and that's the governor," Abbott said of Patrick's push for a special session, adding that those agitating for a special session should be careful what they wish for.

During special sessions, lawmakers are only allowed to consider legislation on subjects selected by the governor. Abbott said that if he initiates a special session, he would not load up the agenda with multiple items for lawmakers to address at once but would "go one item at a time."

"So if anyone tries to hold hostage this legislative session to force a special session," Abbott said, "that person will be putting their members, in the Senate or the House, potentially into a special session for another two years because I'm gonna make sure that we get things passed, not just open up some debating society."

Patrick appeared caught off-guard by Abbott's "goofy" comment later Thursday, asking a TV interviewer multiple times if the governor had really said it. Patrick went on to say it was "not goofy" to request a special session, arguing it was the only option left to him at this point in the session, despite Abbott's insistence that there is still time to salvage the three items.

Also in TV interviews Thursday afternoon, Patrick denied that the Senate was purposely sitting on legislation to trigger a special session. Speculation ramped up around that possibility overnight when the Senate missed a deadline to consider a seemingly must-pass bill to extend the life of state agencies.

"I support the governor but I'm pointing out that, and clearly he's the person that can call it, only person, but I have a right and so does everyone else to ask him to call it and that's what I'm doing," Patrick told Spectrum News in Austin. "And there was a reference about holding hostage, I'm not holding anything hostage."

At the Fort Worth news conference, Abbott insisted he "strongly" supports the three incomplete priorities that prompted Patrick's call for a special session: Punishing social media companies for "censoring" Texans based on their political viewpoints, outlawing transgender students from playing on sports teams based on their gender identity and banning taxpayer-funded lobbying. The issues cap a session that has already seen a slew of long-sought wins for conservative activists, including permitless carry of handguns and a "heartbeat" bill that could ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Despite the high-stakes staredown with Patrick, Abbott downplayed any perceived disunity among the state's leaders, saying the back and forth was to be expected in the final days of a session.

"If the leaders in the Legislature will stop fighting with each other and start working together," Abbott said in Fort Worth, "we can get all of this across the finish line."

Abbott and Patrick traded comments as lawmakers Thursday afternoon sent Abbott a roughly $248 billion spending plan for the state for the next two years, which is the only legislation constitutionally required to pass during a regular session.

But the comments between the two also came after tensions had been simmering inside each chamber for days. Last Thursday, the House stopped work for the week out of frustration that the Senate wasn't passing enough of its priority bills.

Patrick hardly concealed his disdain for the House in remarks to the senators from the dais on Wednesday night, speaking hours after his special session demand.

"As you all know, the House was not here Friday," Patrick said. "The House was not here Saturday. The House has already quit for today. So we're working hard, we're passing bills— they weren't here for two days in the last five. They're gone now. They killed key bills of yours last night, because they weren't here."

The Senate ended up working hours past midnight Wednesday.

As the senators worked, House Speaker Dade Phelan attempted to enter the chamber to watch proceedings but was denied entry because he did not have a wristband proving he had tested negative for the coronavirus, as Quorum Report first reported. Members, staff and the general public have been required to have a negative COVID-19 test before entering the chamber floor or gallery as part of the Senate's pandemic protocols that have been in place throughout session.

Phelan " is always welcome in the TxSenate and was not denied entry [tonight]," the lieutenant governor's office tweeted early Thursday morning. "Messengers offered to get him a wristband, but the Speaker declined and left."

In a jab at the Senate later that morning, Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Lubbock Republican and top lieutenant of the speaker, rattled off statistics comparing the number of House bills and Senate bills the two chambers have taken action on in a series of questions from the chamber's back microphone.

Is it true, Burrows asked Phelan, that "less than 50% of the House bills that we sent over were passed by the Senate, are you aware of that?"

"The chair is not advised," the speaker replied.

"By comparison," Burrows said, "of those bills considered and passed, is it true that we passed 75% of the Senate bills sent over to us?"

"75% is a lot of Senate bills and sounds accurate, Mr. Burrows," Phelan said.

Burrows' line of questioning seemed to reflect the frustration felt by some House members such as Rep. James White, a Hillister Republican, who told the Tribune on Thursday that the Senate had not yet acted on three of his legislative priorities for the session.

White, who chairs the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, said his committee "did not delay one damn Senate bill" this session.

"Tension is good sometimes," White said. "We're all working hard, and I'm proud of the work my committee did."

Other House members were not afraid to take shots at the Senate on Thursday, including Rep. Lyle Larson, a San Antonio Republican.

"The GOP senate bashing the GOP house last night for not working late," Larson tweeted, referring to Patrick's comments made in the Senate the night before. "DP Ego .. ugh."

House Democrats had been most focused on killing Senate Bill 29, which would require transgender student athletes to play on sports teams based on their sex assigned at birth instead of their gender identity. Waving blue and pink transgender pride flags, Democrats celebrated when the midnight deadline to pass the bill came before a vote had been held.

In a radio interview the next morning, one Senate Republican vowed that the issue of transgender student athletes would remain front and center.

"It's not going away," Sen. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills said, speaking minutes before Patrick issued his call for a special session. "You can delay this, but this is not going away."

Abbott has not been outspoken about bills targeting transgender youth this session, though he said during a Fox News appearance last month that he would sign a bill like SB 29.

Like in 2017, Abbott again finds himself facing intraparty pressure to call a special session ahead of a reelection year. This time, though, Abbott is facing more opposition from his right: He has already drawn a primary challenger in former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas, and Texas GOP Chairman Allen West and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller have not ruled out bids against Abbott.

Huffines said Wednesday he backed "calls for an imminent special session," while West voiced support for a special session as long as it addresses the state party's legislative priorities. One of those priorities is abolishing taxpayer-funded lobbying.

Miller, meanwhile, said in an email to supporters Wednesday that a special session to pass Patrick's three unfinished priorities "now looks likely."

Top political aide to Texas agriculture commissioner arrested in scheme to take money in exchange for hemp licenses

"Top political aide to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller arrested in alleged scheme to take money in exchange for hemp licenses" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The top political consultant to Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller was arrested Thursday on allegations that he participated in a scheme to solicit money and campaign contributions for state hemp licenses issued by Miller's Texas Department of Agriculture.

The consultant, Todd Smith, ultimately took $55,000 as part of the scheme, an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by The Texas Tribune says. Smith and others involved in the scheme are alleged in the warrant to have solicited a total of $150,000 to guarantee a license, including a $25,000 upfront cost for a survey that they said was required to get a license in Texas. Some of the money would also go toward funding unnamed political campaigns, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit alleges that Smith committed third-degree felony theft.


Read the affidavit against Todd Smith here.

(2.7 MB)

“Todd Smith created by words and his conduct, a false impression of fact that affected the judgment of others in the transactions to obtain a hemp license and/or conduct a survey that was never attempted by Todd Smith," the affidavit says.

Smith did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Friday morning. Miller told the Tribune on Friday afternoon that he "had no idea" about the alleged scheme.

"That was Todd, between him and his clients," Miller said, adding that he would reserve judgment until he could learn more about the situation.

Miller noted, however, that hemp licenses are not particularly expensive for those who want them, with farmers having to pay $100 for a one-year license.

Smith's arrest was part of an ongoing investigation by the Texas Rangers' Public Integrity Unit, which is responsible for looking into claims of public corruption.

“This matter is being investigated by the Texas Rangers on behalf of the Department of Public Safety in collaboration with the Travis County District Attorney's office," Travis Considine, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said in a statement Friday afternoon. "Our offices will be keeping the community updated as more information becomes available."

Smith was arrested Thursday and booked into Travis County jail at 9:23 p.m., according to Kristen Dark, a spokesperson for the county sheriff's office. Smith was released at 2:59 a.m. Friday on a personal recognizance bond. Bail was set at $10,000.

The affidavit says Smith used another person as a middle man between himself and those interested in getting licenses. The affidavit does not provide much information about the middle man other than that he was “introduced to Todd Smith by a friend in August 2019."

The affidavit includes the account of one man who wanted to get involved in the hemp industry and met the middle man at a social gathering in August 2019. The affidavit says the middle man told the license-seeker that he was “working directly with senior leadership at the TDA" and that he “needed $150,000.00 in cash, with some of the money going toward campaign contributions, in order to receive the 'guaranteed' hemp license."

The license-seeking man agreed to the deal, setting off a chain of events that included a November 2019 visit to Austin where he handed the middle man $30,000 cash in a car outside El Mercado, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Austin near the TDA offices, according to the affidavit. Williams went through an alley to take the money to the TDA headquarters before returning to the car and collecting Vinson for a scheduled meeting at the offices.

The affidavit says the license-seeker learned later that month that he was not guaranteed a license, despite the scheme that had been proposed to him. He reached Smith via phone, who “denied any knowledge but did admit to receiving a $5,000.00 gift from" the middle man, according to the allegations.

The hemp licenses were opened as a result of House Bill 1325, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in 2019 and allowed the state's farmers to legally grow industrial hemp. Hemp is a cousin of the marijuana plant that contains low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive element in marijuana known as THC.

Smith has previously been under scrutiny for blurring campaign and official lines. The Austin American-Statesman reported in 2018 that Smith told a San Antonio businessman he could get a TDA appointment if he donated to Miller's campaign — then Smith asked the businessman for a $29,000 personal loan.

Years earlier, Miller created four new assistant commissioner positions and gave one of them to Smith's wife, Kellie Housewright-Smith. The positions had annual salaries exceeding $180,000, making them among the highest-paid employees at the TDA.

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Former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst arrested on domestic violence charge

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Former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has been arrested and accused of domestic violence.

Dewhurst was arrested Tuesday evening in Dallas, according to Dallas police. He faces a misdemeanor charge of family violence.

Dewhurst was arrested after police responded to a disturbance at an address near Dallas Love Field Airport and met with a woman who said she had been assaulted by a male acquaintance, police said. Officers identified the man as Dewhurst, 75, and took him into custody.

Dewhurst was released from jail early Wednesday morning after posting a $1,000 bond, according to records from the Dallas County Sheriff's Department.

Dallas police said the Public Integrity Unit will investigate the incident.

Dewhurst was lieutenant governor from 2003-15. He unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2012, losing to Ted Cruz, and lost reelection as lieutenant governor in 2014 when Dan Patrick beat him in the Republican primary runoff.

Dewhurst's personal life made headlines last year, when his girlfriend was arrested twice, accused of kicking him and breaking two of his ribs in one of the cases. A grand jury decided not to indict her in connection with the first incident, according to KPRC-TV. Last week, charges were dropped in the second case, which involved the girlfriend allegedly throwing candle wax at him.

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Texas GOP congressional candidate loses prominent supporters after racist comment about Chinese immigrants

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A Republican candidate in the special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, is facing intense backlash and has lost two of her biggest supporters after saying she does not want Chinese immigrants in the United States.

The comments by Sery Kim, a Korean American who served in the Small Business Administration under President Donald Trump, prompted California U.S. Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel to rescind their endorsements of her on Friday. Young Kim and Steel are the first Korean American GOP women to serve in Congress.

“We cannot in good conscience continue to support her candidacy," the lawmakers said in a statement.

The candidate has been unapologetic, however, arguing that she was speaking out against the Chinese Communist Party and blaming the "liberal media" for the uproar. She said she "will not back down from speaking the truth" about the party.

Sery Kim made the anti-Chinese remarks earlier this week at a GOP forum in Arlington while responding to a question about U.S. immigration issues.

“I don't want them here at all," Kim said of potential Chinese immigrants. “They steal our intellectual property, they give us coronavirus, they don't hold themselves accountable."

“And quite frankly, I can say that because I'm Korean," she added.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased since the coronavirus pandemic started in China. Trump has repeatedly blamed China for the pandemic and called the coronavirus "the Chinese virus." Kim's remark came less than a month after the Atlanta spa shootings that killed eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent.

The comments have received condemnation from groups including the DFW Asian-American Citizens Council and AAPI Progressive Action, which works to build political power around Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Kim is one of 11 Republicans — and 23 candidates total — on the May 1 ballot to fill the GOP-leaning seat seat of Wright, who died earlier this year after being hospitalized with coronavirus.

Young Kim and Steel endorsed Sery Kim early on in the race, about a week after the filing deadline last month.

In their statement pulling their endorsements, the two lawmakers said they spoke Thursday with Sery Kim “about her hurtful and untrue comments about Chinese immigrants, and made clear that her comments were unacceptable."

“We urged her to apologize and clarify her remarks, especially as hate against the AAPI community is on the rise," the congresswomen said. “However, she has not publicly shown remorse, and her words were contrary to what we stand for."

Asked for a comment on the loss of the endorsements, Kim provided a statement that said: "I am shocked that in an effort to counter Asian-American hate the liberal media is targeting me, an Asian and an immigrant, in an effort to paint me as anti-Asian and anti-immigrant just for speaking against the oppressive Chinese Communist Party."

In the statement, Sery Kim went on to call the Chinese Communist Party the "foremost threat to the free world." She said she has received more "death threats and racist comments" since the forum controversy than she has in her entire life, and that the voters of the 6th District deserve "someone who will fight for them — who will literally put their life on the line for them."

Until this week, Sery Kim was not a particularly well-known candidate in the special election. The Republican field also features Wright's widow, GOP activist Susan Wright, as well as state Rep. Jake Ellzey of Waxahachie.

On the Democratic side, at least one contender, Lydia Bean, pushed back on Sery Kim's forum comments, saying they target people like her Chinese American husband, Norman, and their 10-month-old son. Norman's parents came to the United States from China in 1966, Bean said.

"This type of speech, no matter who it comes from puts their lives in danger," Bean, a 2020 Texas House candidate, tweeted Thursday. "It's racist, and it's not who we are in Texas."

Early voting for the special election starts April 19.

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Ted Cruz touts Trumpism in Florida while Biden visits Texas after storm leaves millions without power and potable water

Sen. Ted Cruz declares Trumpism among Republicans "ain't goin' anywhere" at Florida conference" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, in a speech Friday at a major national conservative gathering, joked about his recent trip to Cancún during the Texas winter weather crisis and promised that former President Donald Trump would be a lasting force in the Republican Party.

Cruz appeared at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, as President Joe Biden headed to Texas to see the state's recovery from last week's storm, which left millions of Texans without power and potable water. The Democratic president was set to be joined in Houston by the state's senior U.S. senator, John Cornyn, as well as Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans.

Cruz opened his CPAC speech by poking fun at his ill-timed visit to Cancún, which sparked a national uproar late last week. Cruz returned early from his trip, calling it a "mistake."

“I gotta say, Orlando is awesome. It's not as nice as Cancún," Cruz said, pausing amid laughter in the crowd. “But it's nice."

Cruz went on to use the address to rally Republicans against the Biden agenda and for the next two election cycles. At one point, he brought up Trump and said there were some in Washington D.C., who want to move on from him.

“Let me tell you this right now: Donald Trump ain't goin' anywhere," Cruz said, arguing the GOP has become the party of “not just the country clubs" but also blue-collar workers.

“That is our party and these deplorables are here to stay," Cruz added, referring to the term Hillary Clinton used to describe some of Trump's supporters in the 2016 presidential race.

Cruz led up to the declaration by referencing a report Thursday that an old intraparty nemesis, ex-U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, told Cruz to “go f--k yourself" in an off-script moment while recording the audio version of his new memoir.

“Yesterday, John Boehner made some news," Cruz said. “He suggested that I do something that was anatomically impossible — to which my response was, 'Who's John Boehner?'"

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How Ted Cruz's attempt to overturn Biden' win ended in violence at the US Capitol: analysis

Two nights before the Electoral College certification in Congress, Ted Cruz was in vintage form.

The junior U.S. senator from Texas was calling in to a friendly conservative radio host — Mark Levin — and setting up Wednesday's vote to be the kind of intraparty line in the sand that has powered his political rise.

By then, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had made clear that he opposed objections to certifying Joe Biden's election as the next president. But Cruz and 10 other GOP senators announced they would still object unless Congress agreed to an “emergency audit" of the presidential election results.

Cruz told Levin that there were some conservatives “who in good conscience" disagree with his view of Congress' role in certifying the presidential election results, and that he had talked to them and did not fault them. On the other hand, Cruz said, there were “some Republicans who are not conservatives but who are piously and self-righteously preening" when it comes to the issue.

In spearheading the group of objectors, Cruz arguably upstaged U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, who announced his plan to object three days earlier — and, like Cruz, is considered a potential 2024 presidential contender.

But on Wednesday, what Cruz might have thought was a savvy political play took an alarming turn: Supporters of President Donald Trump stormed and ransacked the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers were considering Cruz's objection. Three people suffered medical emergencies during the siege and died; their deaths were in addition to another woman who was shot by a Capitol police officer.

Cruz denounced the violence but incurred a fierce backlash from critics in both parties, who said his drive to question the election results — and appease the president and his supporters ahead of a possible 2024 run — helped fan the flames of anger among Trump supporters. Prominent Texas Democrats called for him to resign. Many others suggested he'd played an inciting role in one of the darkest days in modern American history.

Politically, it was a high-stakes distillation of GOP tactics in the era of Trump.

“His challenge of the Electoral College votes helps him among core Trump supporters but risks further damaging his political standing among rank-and-file Republicans like moderates and suburban swing voters who have traditionally formed a stable winning coalition for Republicans in Texas and nationally," said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, who added, “Siding with Trump is risky."

In recent months, Cruz has positioned himself as one of the most prominent and vocal Trump supporters casting doubt on the election. Two days after Election Day, Cruz charged that Philadelphia officials were not allowing election observers to watch the counting of votes in the swing state, even though Trump's lawyers conceded that they had been allowed in the room.

In December, Trump asked Cruz if he would be willing to argue a long shot case filed by Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to invalidate the election results in states like Pennsylvania in the event that it reached the U.S. Supreme Court. (Cruz agreed, but the high court ultimately said Texas did not have standing to bring the case.)

And in the days ahead of Wednesday's certification, Cruz raised concerns about how many people believed fraud had occurred in the election, without acknowledging the role he had played in encouraging those beliefs.

“We've seen in the last two months unprecedented allegations of voter fraud," Cruz said in an early January interview on Fox News. “And that's produced a deep, deep distrust of our democratic process across the country. I think we in Congress have an obligation to do something about that."

But people in both parties have questioned his motives.

“Proposing a commission at this late date — which has zero chance of becoming reality — is not effectively fighting for President Trump," U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, tweeted. “It appears to be more of a political dodge than an effective remedy."

As people stormed the Capitol building, Cruz insisted on Twitter that violence “is ALWAYS wrong" and called the attack a “despicable act of terrorism and a shocking assault on our democratic system."

“Those engaged in violence are hurting the cause they say they support," he said.

He did not, however, withdraw his objections to the Election Day results.

It didn't help that Cruz on Wednesday was fundraising off his Electoral College challenge, with some money-seeking texts hitting phones as Trump supporters wreaked havoc at the Capitol. (An aide to Cruz said the messages were sent “from a firm" and not approved by Cruz to be sent.) To Cruz's critics, including those within his own party, it was emblematic of the kind of naked political ambition that they have long abhorred about him.

“The Cruz effort had nothing to do with making some determination of whether or not there was fraud to reverse the outcome of the election and only to do with 2024 and the presidential primary," said Jerry Patterson, a Republican former state land commissioner who is open about his unhappiness with Trump, but conceded that he's voted for Cruz in past elections.

“That's why I could never get back into politics anymore. I'm sick and tired of the bullshit. And that's what it was," he said.

The episode not only gave fodder to Cruz's longtime intraparty detractors but also fellow Republicans.

“You have some senators who, for political advantage, were giving false hope to their supporters [and] misleading them to believe somehow yesterday's actions in Congress could reverse the results of the election," U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who is also seen as a possible 2024 contender, said in a TV appearance on Fox without directly naming Cruz. “That was never going to happen yet these senators, as insurrectionists literally stormed the Capitol, were sending out fundraising emails."

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP's 2012 nominee for president, raised similar frustrations on the Senate floor Wednesday night, without mentioning Cruz or other objectors by name.

“I ask my colleagues: Do we weigh our own political fortunes more heavily than we weigh the strength of our Republic, the strength of our democracy and the cause of freedom? What is the weight of personal acclaim compared to the weight of conscience?"

To be clear, Cruz received backup from his own party. While his initial coalition did not hold, he was still joined by several colleagues in objecting to the certification of the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Dozens of House members, including many Texans, also objected in both cases.

The state's senior senator, John Cornyn, split decisively from Cruz, announcing he would not object in a lengthy letter to Texans on Tuesday, specifically pooh-poohing Cruz's emergency audit proposal. That contrast in particular heartened some Cruz supporters.

“Ted Cruz will be a stronger force in the Texas GOP than John Cornyn because of the way he has handled the last 30 days and because he doesn't answer to the same political elite that Cornyn does," said Luke Macias, a consultant for some of the Texas Legislature's farthest-right members. “Democrats' insane calls for Cruz to step down have only made him politically stronger."

Democrats, meanwhile, were apoplectic over his role. Two of the state's best-known Democrats, Joaquin and Julián Castro, called on Cruz to resign, as did the state Democratic Party. Cruz's old nemesis Beto O'Rourke emailed supporters calling for “accountability and consequence" against the Texas senator, who defeated O'Rourke in a Senate race in 2018.

“Sen. Cruz, you must accept responsibility for how your craven, self-serving actions contributed to the deaths of four people yesterday. And how you fundraised off this riot," tweeted U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York. “Both you and Senator Hawley must resign. If you do not, the Senate should move for your expulsion."

In Cruz's Houston hometown, activists lined the streets on Thursday, calling for his resignation while standing outside of a downtown skyscraper that houses one of Cruz's offices.

But to detractors asking him to leave Congress, Cruz responded curtly Thursday afternoon, “Sorry, I ain't going anywhere."

While Cruz himself doesn't appear to have any regrets for his role in inciting an insurrection — on Thursday he said he would do it all over again if he had to — his colleagues might not easily forgive under a new presidential administration.

Patterson, for one, thinks Cruz's future political prospects hinge on where Republicans go in the next four years — and whether they remain loyal to Trump.

“There was a reset yesterday of politics in America — at least I hope and pray there was," Patterson said.

Disclosure: The University of Houston has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Here's why John Cornyn won't be joining the effort to overturn Biden's win

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, announced Tuesday that he isn't planning to object to the certification of the Electoral College vote in Congress, splitting with a growing number of GOP colleagues that most notably includes the state's junior senator, Ted Cruz.

In a lengthy letter to Texans, Cornyn noted that he has supported President Donald Trump's right to challenge election results in the courts but that Trump's lawsuits have gone nowhere, and recounts in multiple states have also failed to change the outcome. Trump has continued to push baseless claims of widespread fraud in the election, including at a campaign rally Monday night in Georgia.

"As a former judge, I view this process with the same impartial, evidence-based decision-making as I did my job on the bench," wrote Cornyn, a former justice on the Texas Supreme Court. “So, unless substantial, new evidence is presented during the challenges to each state's ballots, I will not object to the certification of that stave's election results based on unproven allegations."

"Allegations alone will not suffice," Cornyn said earlier in the letter. "Evidence is required."

Cornyn's position is not much of a surprise based on comments he has made in recent weeks expressing increasing skepticism about Trump's chances of overturning his loss to the president-elect, Joe Biden. But the letter marks Cornyn's most extensive explanation of his position yet, and it comes as Texas' other senator digs in on his plan, along with 10 other GOP senators, to object to the Wednesday certification of Biden's win unless they can secure an "emergency audit" of the November results.

A source familiar with Cruz's plans, but who was unauthorized to speak on the record, said that Cruz intends to specifically object to the certification of electors from Arizona. The news was first reported Tuesday by the Washington Post. Cruz told conservative radio host Mark Levin on Monday night that he did not want to "set aside the election ... but rather to press for the appointment of an electoral commission."

In his letter, Cornyn made clear he was not a fan of Cruz's audit proposal, which Cruz has said can be done in the 10 days before the inauguration. Cornyn suggested he too supports a review of election issues but something less hasty and more deliberate, such as an "independent commission" in the vein of the Commission on Federal Election Reform. That was a private bipartisan panel that looked into problems with the 2000 and 2004 elections.

"As to timing and practicality of an emergency audit, I am much more dubious," Cornyn said. "The design of the proposed commission to conduct such an 'audit' will inevitably fail."

Cornyn and Cruz are in very different positions politically. Cornyn is coming off a reelection victory in November that secured him another six-year term in the Senate, while Cruz has an eye toward 2024, when any presidential contender will likely need to stay in the good graces of Trump and his supporters.

Trump dinged Cornyn on Tuesday afternoon, tagging him in a tweet that told the "weak and ineffective RINO section of the Republican Party" to heed his supporters' wishes for an election reversal. (RINO stands for "Republican In Name Only.") Trump also tagged two other senior Senate Republicans: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Whip John Thune, who previously incurred Trump's wrath for dismissing some House Republicans' intentions to dispute the Electoral College outcome.

Nearly half of the 23 Texas Republicans in the House have promised to object to the certification. At least four announced their intentions Tuesday: Reps. Jodey Arrington of Lubbock, John Carter of Round Rock, Troy Nehls and Ron Wright of Arlington.

Carter, Nehls and Wright all represent districts that national Democrats targeted in November, though each won their races by comfortable margins. Nehls was sworn in to Congress on Sunday after winning the hard-fought fall election to replace former U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who did not seek another term.

"You sent me to Congress to fight for President Trump and election integrity and that's exactly what I'm doing," Nehls wrote on Facebook.

The other Texas Republicans in the House who have said they will object to the certification are Reps. Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Lance Gooden of Terrell, August Pfluger of San Angelo, Randy Weber of Friendswood, Pete Sessions of Waco, Brian Babin of Woodville and Ronny Jackson, the former Trump White House doctor who represents the Panhandle.

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Texas GOP chair who assumed role after facing backlash for racist Facebook post resigns

"Harris County GOP chair who assumed role after facing backlash for racist Facebook post resigns" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

The head of the Republican Party in Texas' largest county has resigned after less than four months on the job.

Keith Nielsen, chairman of the GOP in Harris County, home to Houston, submitted a letter of resignation and the party's secretary, Josh Flynn, said he received it Monday morning. The party did not immediately release the letter, but Flynn said Nielsen stepped down for "personal reasons."

Nielsen was engulfed in controversy before he even became chairman. He won the job in March, but as he prepared to take office this summer, he faced widespread condemnation for posting a Facebook graphic juxtaposing a Martin Luther King Jr. quote with a banana, which could be read as an allusion to equating Black people with monkeys, a well-worn racist trope. He initially said he would forfeit the job but reneged, taking office in early August.

Nielsen's resignation is effective immediately, according to Rolando Garcia, a member of the party's advisory board. The county party's executive committee will meet Dec. 14 to pick Nielsen's successor, Flynn said.

One potential candidate is the party's current vice chair, Kevin Fulton. He briefly ran for chair this summer when it looked like Nielsen would not take office.

Once a battleground, Harris County has become increasingly blue in recent elections. President-elect Joe Biden carried it by 13 percentage points in the Nov. 3 election, a slightly larger margin than Hillary Clinton did four years earlier.

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Here are 5 things to watch on Election Day 2020 in Texas: analysis

"Five things to watch on Election Day 2020 in Texas" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

It's finally Election Day.

After months of campaigning and prognosticating — all during a pandemic — Texas is playing host to a series of high-stakes contests up and down the ballot, from a presidential race that could be the state's closest in a generation to the fight for the Texas House majority. And it is all coming after an early voting period that saw turnout exceed the number of votes for the entire 2016 election. After 9.7 million people voted early, some experts believe Texas might be on a path to potentially surpass 12 million voters when all is said and done.

Texas has attracted intense national interest in recent weeks, and in one sign of it, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, spent the day before the election traveling the state.

“The road to the White House runs through Texas, and the road to a Senate majority runs straight through the great state of Texas, and that's why I'm proud to be here, folks," Perez said Monday morning in San Antonio.

Hours later, as he finished a six-day bus tour in Dripping Springs, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn recognized two of the factors making for a dramatic end to the general election in Texas: the massive early voting turnout and a late surge in outside Democratic spending against both him and President Donald Trump. Cornyn said the 9.7 million early voters are a “wonderful thing" but added that “about a million of them have never voted in a primary general election, so that's going to be an interesting mystery."

“We've never seen such an unprecedented amount of out-of-state money coming into Texas this election," said Cornyn, speaking from the balcony of his campaign bus surrounded by down-ballot candidates. “Every single Republican up here is being outspent by our opposition."

A reminder: The number of Texas voters casting absentee ballots has risen sharply due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the outcome of some key races may not be known Tuesday night as a result.

That being said, here are five of the biggest storylines to watch.

Can Joe Biden actually win Texas?

A Democrat hasn't won Texas' electoral votes since 1976, but statewide polls show a highly competitive race.

If Biden can turn voters out and flip the state, it would be a massive event in state and American politics — and would almost certainly mean a Biden victory nationwide.

A Democratic win in Texas could hinge on Hispanic and suburban voters. On Friday, Biden's running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, made a last-minute stop in McAllen with Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro. When asked by a reporter there why she was visiting the border city, Harris said it was “because there are people here who matter, people who are working hard, people who love their country, and we need to be here and be responsive to that." (Trump hasn't done any general-election campaigning in Texas, though national surveys have shown Trump improving among Hispanic voters compared with his 2016 standing.)

Texas' fast-changing suburbs, meanwhile, have been steadily slipping out of Republicans' grip over the last few election cycles. On Tuesday, Democrats are hoping to pick up several congressional and state House seats in these regions and build on the suburban strength they garnered in 2018 to undercut Trump's advantage in rural areas of the state.

Of the 1.8 million newly registered voters the state gained between 2016 and 2020, most of them are in large urban and suburban counties. The big cities are dominated by Democrats. Meanwhile, traditionally Republican suburban counties like Denton, Williamson and Collin are trending more blue.

Will the Texas House flip?

After gaining 12 seats in 2018, Democrats are nine away from the majority in the Texas House. Flipping the chamber would unlock a major prize for the party: more influence in the 2021 redistricting process.

While Democrats have to defend the dozen seats they picked up, they are confident about those races and have cast a wide net on offense, designating as many as 22 pickup opportunities. At the core of that battlefield are the nine seats that O'Rourke won in 2018 that are still represented by Republicans.

The battle for the lower chamber has become a hugely expensive affair, attracting tens of millions of dollars from statewide and national groups. On the latest campaign finance reports alone, covering Sept. 25 through Oct. 24, candidates across 34 battleground districts combined to raise $39.4 million, including in-kind donations, and spend $22.3 million.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who is not up for reelection until 2022, has made the state House fight his top political priority this election cycle. His campaign has spent over $6 million on down-ballot races this fall, according to a memo sent Monday to state House Republicans.

Abbott has also visited a handful of battleground districts recently to knock doors. On Saturday, Abbott was in House District 121, where state Rep. Steve Allison, R-San Antonio, is fighting for reelection after winning the seat by 9 points just two years ago.

Still, Democratic optimism about capturing the House majority has only grown in the homestretch. In one sign that the party anticipates being in control come January, three Democratic members have announced in recent days that they are running for speaker.

How many U.S. House seats will Democrats pick up?

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came to Texas in March 2019 and declared the state would be “ground zero" for Democrats in 2020. They have made good on her promise, at least when it comes to the congressional battlefield here.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has built a Texas target list that includes 10 GOP-held districts, more seats than the committee is working to flip anywhere else in the country. In all but two of the 10 districts, the DCCC has added the Democratic nominee to its Red to Blue program for top candidates.

National Republicans, meanwhile, have targeted the two seats they lost in 2018, those held by Democratic U.S. Reps. Colin Allred of Dallas and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Houston.

With Allred and Fletcher well positioned for reelection, most of the action has centered on the Democrats' targets, and four of them in particular at this point: the 21st District, where Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, is up for reelection; the 22nd District, where Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, is retiring; the 23rd District, where Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, is not seeking reelection; and the 24th District, where Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, is also vacating the seat.

That is not to say Democrats are not seeing promise in other targeted districts. As an example, they have grown optimistic in the homestretch about the 3rd District, where Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, is running for reelection in the kind of highly educated suburban district that has swung away from Trump.

Can John Cornyn dispatch a late Democratic spending blitz?

Cornyn, a Republican, has long had a polling lead — if small at times — in his reelection campaign. But the race is ending on a less certain note amid an 11th-hour spending spree by Democratic outside groups that even Cornyn admits is concerning.

Senate Majority PAC, Future Forward and EMILY's List combined to dump eight figures into the contest during early voting, seeing a late opportunity to unseat Cornyn and elect his Democratic opponent, MJ Hegar. The president of EMILY's List, Stephanie Schriock, told reporters Friday that the contest has become a “late-breaking race" and that with Texas' huge early voting turnout, “we feel like we've got a real path here to victory."

A pro-Cornyn super PAC has ratcheted up its spending in recent days, but it has not been able to match the Democratic coalition dollar for dollar.

Both Cornyn and Hegar hit the road hard in the lead-up to Tuesday. Hegar, the former Air Force helicopter pilot, joined Harris for her three stops Friday across Texas and then headed out on her own, visiting Austin, Del Rio, Laredo, San Antonio, Webster, Arlington and Dallas.

Cornyn, meanwhile, went on the bus tour, which began Wednesday. He swung through 21 cities through Monday, which included three stops that day with the state's junior senator, Ted Cruz, who warned in Dripping Springs that the state is “under assault" and asked Republicans to “fight back the socialist horde that is attacking our state."

How high can Texas turnout get — and when will all the votes be counted?

There were 9.7 million early voters in Texas, exceeding the 9 million who voted in the entire 2016 election. Now the question is this: Just how high will total turnout go Tuesday?

Many political observers are bracing for a turnout north of 12 million, which would be uncharted territory in Texas politics.

Just how uncharted? Consider this: A turnout of over 12 million would be more than two and a half times that of the last time Cornyn was on the ballot, in 2014.

Across the country, election officials are preparing for a longer-than-usual wait time for full results due to adjustments made as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. However, that could be less of a factor in Texas, which declined to expand mail-in voting and lets counties begin counting absentee ballots before Election Day.

Still, more down-ballot races are in play than in recent memory in Texas, and there is the possibility that multiple outcomes are not confidently known until every last ballot is counted. In Texas, absentee ballots count as long as they are postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day and received by the county elections office by 5 p.m. the next day. Counties can also accept overseas military ballots through Nov. 9.

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Rural Texas saved Ted Cruz in 2018. Will it save Donald Trump on Tuesday?

"Rural Texans have long helped Republicans. Will that hold true on Tuesday?" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Rural Texas saved Ted Cruz in 2018. Will it save Donald Trump on Tuesday?

That is one of the defining questions as Texas barrels toward what could be its closest presidential race since 1976 — or the first time the state picks a Democratic presidential nominee since then.

The story of Texas politics in 2020 is about the cities becoming bluer, the suburbs becoming more competitive and the Latino vote rising — but it is also about a rural firewall that has kept Republicans in power for so long. Rural areas of the state have historically been Republicans' strongest line of defense in Texas as polls show suburbs — even in traditionally red areas — shifting toward Democrats. But with the state's changing demographics and a noticeable surge of Democratic energy in deep Trump country, there's an open question of whether Republicans can hold onto these districts with the same large margins they did in 2016.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chairs Trump's reelection campaign in Texas, called into a Lubbock radio show Thursday with an explicit appeal to rural Texans.

“The margins will depend on all of our great friends and our patriots in West Central and East Texas who say, 'I don't want the president just to win, I want him to stomp the Democrats here 75-25,'" Patrick told host Chad Hasty. “And the bigger rural Texas [votes] will determine the final margin he wins by — is it 4? Is it 6? Is it 8? Is it 3?"

In 2018, Cruz needed the state's rural counties to fend off a blockbuster challenge by Democrat Beto O'Rourke. The former El Paso congressman defeated Cruz 51% to 48% in the non-rural counties, which Trump carried by 3 points in 2016. But Cruz held strong in the rural counties and carried them 75% to 24%, nearly identical to Trump's margin in them two years earlier.

No one expects Smith County, which includes Tyler, to flip to Democratic control after Trump bested Hillary Clinton by more than 67 percentage points in 2016. And no one doubts the passion of GOP voters in red enclaves across the historically Republican counties across Texas and the South. Texas is dominated by Republicans in all levels of state government.

The problem for Republicans is that rural Texas is making up a shrinking share of the statewide vote as population growth largely favors the cities and suburbs. Rural counties contributed 13% of the statewide vote in 2014, 12% in 2016 and 11% in 2018.

And the GOP dominance has not gone unanswered in rural Texas, where Democrats have made investments to at least cut down on their deficits there.

“Republicans are in trouble out here," said Stuart Williams, the West Texas organizer for the Texas Democratic Party. “Trump won in places like Lubbock in 2016 at the lowest level that any Republican had won since 1996. And that was four year ago before we all saw ... what can happen to our country."

Biden's campaign has made some overtures to rural Texas. In mid-October, the campaign hosted a “Rural Texas Community Conversation" with Tom Vilsack, the former U.S. agriculture secretary and Iowa governor. And the campaign did a three-day surrogate bus tour last week whose first three stops were in Amarillo, Lubbock and Abilene. (The tour was derailed Friday after a highway skirmish with Trump supporters south of Austin.)

The Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump group run by former Republican operatives, has also sought to help Biden in rural Texas. In early October, the organization announced a $1 million ad campaign called “Operation Sam Houston" that was aimed at over 600,000 suburban and rural Republican women in Texas.

The divide between rural and non-rural Texas does not just matter for the presidential race. It is poised to factor into other statewide contests, including those for U.S. Senate and a seat on the Railroad Commission, which regulates the Texas oil and gas industry.

In the U.S. Senate election, Republican incumbent John Cornyn has been prioritizing more conservative, rural parts of the state in the closing days of his reelection campaign. He is in the middle of a statewide bus tour whose itinerary is largely filled with cities like Wichita Falls and Tyler.

“We're counting on you," Cornyn said Thursday in Tyler. “We're depending on Tyler, Smith County and East Texas to win this."

Cornyn's Democratic rival, MJ Hegar, said Saturday she was “not concerned at all" about a repeat of 2018, when rural Texas rescued an otherwise vulnerable Republican U.S. senator.

“I grew up in rural Texas, and I know what rural Texas needs," said Hegar, who was raised in Williamson County — north of Austin — when it was less suburban than it is today. “It's why I'm running for office. Rural Texas is hurting because of a lack of access to education and health care, two of the biggest employers in rural Texas. Rural agricultural Texas is hurting because of the China trade war that we're losing right now because of ineffective leadership from the top down."

Democrats say they are also appealing to rural voters with issues such as broadband internet access. Republicans, meanwhile, say their rural voters are energized by Trump's follow-through on campaign promises to restrict abortion and appoint conservative judges.

Republican congressional nominees who do not have competitive races, many from rural areas, have nonetheless hit the campaign trail hard this fall to try to maximize their district's vote for Trump. Right after securing the GOP nomination for the 4th District at a convention in August, Pat Fallon gave a speech in which he said Republicans in the largely rural northeast Texas district “need to make sure we run the score up in CD-4 so we can help President Trump carry this state and save our country."

It's also the mission of Ronny Jackson, the former White House doctor who is set to become the next congressman from Texas' 13th District, the reddest in the country. While Jackson's election is all but guaranteed Tuesday, he said he has been impressing upon voters that they still need to show up for Trump.

“I think it's going to be absolutely crucial," Jackson said. “Texas 13, 19, 11 — these three big rural [congressional] districts out here in West Texas and the Texas Panhandle, we really are the firewall that keeps Texas red. It's just overwhelmingly Republican out here ... and that really does make a difference statewide."

Among Democrats, there's optimism that Biden-backing allies in rural Texas could not only prevent Trump from recreating his overwhelming 2016 margins in white, working class areas, the kind of support that offset his losses in the suburbs and among voters of color four years ago, but also make Trump's path to victory in Texas all the more difficult.

“I'm also seeing a pretty substantial uptick in folks volunteering with Democratic-adjacent organizations," said Amy Hull, 42, who lives in Tarrant County. “It's been interesting to see people who were pretty tuned out four years ago become unapologetic about their politics and determined to do everything possible to make our community, state and country government work better for everyone."

Republicans could especially take heart in rural areas that have only grown more red in recent election cycles. Take for example Jones County, which includes part of Abilene and went for John McCain by 47 points in 2008, Mitt Romney by 55 points in 2012 and Trump by 65 points in 2016.

The county GOP chair, Isaac Castro, said there is “a lot more enthusiasm" for Trump in Jones County compared to four years ago, when some local Republicans had reservations about his conservative credentials.

“I really think that this year he's probably going to do better," Castro said, adding that he was not worried about Trump losing statewide. “You know, West Texas is going to be strong for him again."

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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National Democratic super PAC says it will double its spending to $12 million in battle for the Texas House

"National Democratic super PAC says it will double its spending to $12 million in battle for the Texas House" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

The national Democratic super PAC Forward Majority is doubling its spending to flip the Texas House, bringing its commitment to over $12 million.

The political action committee said in early September that it would drop $6.2 million to help Democrats capture the majority. But in an announcement first shared with The Texas Tribune, Forward Majority said it is now surging its spending to keep up with Republicans in the homestretch of the fight to control the lower chamber ahead of the 2021 redistricting process.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, the chief national GOP group focused on state legislative races, had vowed to top Forward Majority's initial $6.2 million investment, and it raised $5.3 million into a Texas-based account between July 1 and late September. Of that haul, $4.5 million came via GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam.

"The RSLC and Karl Rove aren't going to call the shots in Texas in this election," Forward Majority spokesperson Ben Wexler-Waite said in a statement, alluding to both the national GOP outfit and a state-level PAC with which Rove, the famous party strategist, is working. "Republicans are hemorrhaging millions on Texas state house races because they know their majority is in grave jeopardy and that this is the most important state in the country for redistricting."

Democrats are nine seats away from the majority, and they also have to defend the 12 seats they picked up in 2018. Forward Majority has been exclusively on offense, targeting its original $6.2 million effort at 18 Republican-held seats.

Forward Majority said its spending surge was prompted by millions of dollars in TV ad buys by Republicans in some of the most competitive districts, such as those of Republican Reps. Jeff Leach of Plano, Angie Chen Button of Richardson, Morgan Meyer of Dallas and Sarah Davis of Houston. In two of those districts — Meyer's and Davis' — Forward Majority is teaming up with Everytown for Gun Safety, the national anti-gun violence group, to try to counter increased GOP ad spending.

The ramped-up spending plan by Forward Majority reflects just how fiercely competitive the fight for the majority has become. While Democrats had plenty to boast about on the latest campaign finance reports, Republicans in general had more money to spend heading into late September, and they are getting seven-figure aid in the final weeks from not just the RSLC but also Gov. Greg Abbott's campaign.

"We've long seen several paths to flipping the Texas House and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure Democratic legislative candidates aren't drowned out by millions in special interest money," Wexler-Waite said.

Disclosure: Everytown for Gun Safety has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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Texas Democrats are successfully suing to kick Green Party candidates off the November ballot

State and national Democrats are waging a legal offensive to kick Green Party candidates off the ballot in some of Texas' highest-profile races this fall — and they are seeing success.

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